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Alarm warned hospital helicopter of military jets

Saturday - 5/19/2012, 2:47pm  ET

LEXINGTON, Va. - A medical helicopter came within 1,000 feet of three military jets after dropping off a patient, a spokesman for healthcare organization Carilion Clinic said.

Roanoke-based Carilion said it occurred Thursday night as the helicopter approached its home base in Rockbridge County near Lexington.

The helicopter was descending to a temporary landing pad at a shopping center when an alarm sounded. The pilot and crew saw three military aircraft in the vicinity, and the pilot took evasion action and landed safely, spokesman Eric Earnhart said.

"This is the closest call we've had," Earnhart said. "It is the first time we're aware of in which a pilot has taken evasive action."

The Roanoke Times ( http://bit.ly/KLOzoK) reports its unclear what altitude the incident occurred, how fast the jets were going or what branch of the military was involved. Pilots of the Life-Guard 12 helicopters typically maintain an altitude between 5,000 feet and 10,000 feet during a flight, Earnhart said.

The Federal Aviation Administration "is investigating a report that several military jets flew too close to a helicopter in uncontrolled airspace," an FAA statement said. It said the aircraft were operating under visual flight rules and weren't in communication with air traffic controllers.

The shopping center is being used as a temporary landing site while a new pad is built at Carilion Stonewall Jackson Hospital. Carilion anticipates the new helipad will be ready in July.

Three Life-Guard helicopters fly between six and 12 flights a day, Earnhart said.

Medical helicopters typically fly below radar and don't file flight plans, said Sherry Wallace, spokeswoman for Roanoke Regional Airport. She said Life-Guard routinely calls the Roanoke control tower to make it aware of flights.

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Information from: The Roanoke Times, http://www.roanoke.com


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