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Helipad Poses 'Unacceptable Levels of Public Safety Risk,' Councilman Says

"The complexity of the airspace, density of dissimilar air traffic, and often unpredictable visibility and winds over Summit, increase the risk of mid-air collisions," Patrick Hurley says.

The following is a letter to the editor:

The Atlantic Health Overlook Hospital helipad debate, once again, dominates our public discussion. I support the concept of making the magnificent, life saving, stroke services available at Overlook to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, even if by EMS helicopter. I do not, however, support the current proposal for a helipad on the roof of Overlook because it will expose our city to unacceptable levels of public safety risk. Contrary to what many residents may believe, the helipad is a Summit-wide problem. It affects the majority of the community, not just a small group living in proximity of Overlook.

We live near one of the busiest airports in the world, under some of the most restrictive and complicated controlled airspace in the world. Airliners, some as large as a Boeing 757, routinely descend right over Summit on final approach into Newark Airport along with numerous private and corporate aircraft operating out of Morristown Airport. A helicopter operating from the roof of Overlook doesn't have a lot of options and the margins for error are slim.

As a former Navy combat helicopter pilot who also holds a Federal Aviation Administration issued commercial helicopter pilot’s license, and a Master’s Degree in Aviation Management and Operations from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, I consider Atlantic Health’s current proposal an elevated risk operation - One too risky for Summit. If you live within 4,000 feet of the hospital, in any direction, you could be right under, by less than 500 feet, the final approach, or initial departure path, of any helicopter operating at Overlook. This includes anyone within a radius extending to Highway 24, to Summit High School, to Interstate 78. It includes the downtown, and, in addition to the high school, includes numerous other schools including Summit Middle School, Brayton Elementary, Jefferson Elementary, Lincoln-Hubbard Elementary, Oak Knoll and Kent Place schools.

The complexity of the airspace, density of dissimilar air traffic, and often unpredictable visibility and winds over Summit, increase the risk of mid-air collisions, wake turbulence induced incidents and, almost always fatal, Controlled Flight into Terrain (CFIT) accidents when compared to other aircraft operating under the same category of Federal Aviation Regulations. Additionally, the lack of urgent and emergency landing options (there really are none) the closer the aircraft is to the hospital poses added, unacceptable, risk to our community. 

I have been critical of Atlantic Health's approach from the beginning feeling it took Zoning Board approval for granted while avoiding the necessary, although uncomfortable, level of community engagement. Having lost with their original approach, and subsequent legal appeal, rather than now work with the community, they have chosen another path for approval, through the New Jersey Department of Transportation, which seeks to undermine our right to home rule. I adamantly oppose this latest approach not only because it seeks to bypass our local government but also because it callously and recklessly exposes our community to needless safety risks. Even if they win, it will be a bitter victory subject to perhaps years of legal appeals and, in the end, destroy more than a century of good will between the Summit community and Overlook.

There are alternatives. We need to explore solutions that will require compromises from both sides while making these life saving medical services quickly available to as many people as possible but without compromising the safety of Summit. We need to work towards this solution together. While I'm not naive enough to think there are not significant monetary and political factors in play, I believe most of us want to do what is right.

As I said to my wife the other day, I don't want to explain to someone's children, from outside the area, why one of their parents was lost because they couldn't get to Overlook fast enough. But, I also don't want to explain to Summit parents why their children were lost because of a helicopter mishap when they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I call upon all residents of Summit to oppose Atlantic Health’s pending application to the state Department of Transportation before the public comments window closes on January 13th. I also call upon Atlantic Health to begin working with the City of Summit to find an acceptable solution that works for both sides. 

Patrick Hurley

Member of Summit Common Council

Chairman of Public Safety

Gail January 05, 2014 at 06:45 AM
I agree with you. Please tell us where to write. Thank you.
Patrick Hurley January 05, 2014 at 07:29 AM
NJ Department of Transportation Office of Community Relations 1035 Parkway Avenue PO Box 600 Trenton, NJ 08625-0600
Michael S. Dzikowski January 05, 2014 at 09:37 AM
I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Hurley's objections to this rooftop helipad proposal. Overlook needs a new, community approach with full disclosures being made to Summit, Springfield, Millburn, Chatham and Mountainside residents. To date, Atlantic Health and their counsel have used fiction and shill experts to distort, omit and minimize the dangerous flaws in this proposed rooftop helipad with unsafe flight paths in and especially out! I too, am a combat veteran helicopter instructor pilot. I have accomplished many medevac missions in dangerous landing zones to save lives. Never should we confuse true life & death situations with possibly, more convenient yet redundant air taxi transfers of stabilized patients for increased revenues.
TomK January 07, 2014 at 03:29 PM
I agree with Pat Hurley. These flights are much more dangerous than regular helicopter flights (as in they crash a lot more often). There is a lot of pressure to launch when maybe they shouldn't, both to save lives and to justify the cost. Good article on the subject: http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/aviation/safety/medical-helicopter-safety-crashes
Michael S. Dzikowski January 10, 2014 at 02:57 PM
Here's some links to understand how real our safety concerns are. There is a U.S. National Transportation Safety Board Database site: http://www.ntsb.gov/aviationquery/index.aspx This site will show you with various screens, how many helicopter accidents occur in whatever timeframe you select. e.g., For the period 1/1/2004 thru 12/31/2013 there were 136 accidents (non-scheduled helicopter flights; Part 135 for Air Taxi, Charter, Medical Service) which resulted in in 40 fatalities 29% ranging from 1 to 10 deceased. PHI, Inc the operator of Atlantic Health's 3 helicopters, had 3 accidents (one with 8 fatalities). That's 1.18 fatalities per month; 104 fatalities per 100 accidents. 23% of the accidents were in Eurocopters, the manufacturer of Atlantic health's fleet.
Michael S. Dzikowski January 10, 2014 at 03:07 PM
http://www.nbcnews.com/id/24877073/#.UtAd-ijEP_Q May, 2008 Grand Rapids,MI crash Spectrum Hospital Rooftop http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/scotland/10487997/Glasgow-helicopter-lifted-from-pub-crash-site.html December, 2012 Glasgow, Scotland Eurocopter Rooftop
Michael S. Dzikowski January 16, 2014 at 11:09 AM
Another 9 dead as an experienced EC-135 Eurocopter pilot attempts an emergency forced landing and crashes THROUGH THE ROOF of a Glasgow, Scotland Pub in a densely populated area on 12/03/2013. We need to stop this Overlook Helipad! http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-25181604

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