Advocating for Enhanced Safety Measures in Helicopter Hoist Rescues: A Harrowing Experience
Katalin (Kati) Metro's unfortunate experience during a helicopter hoist rescue in Phoenix underscores the urgent need for improved regulations and technologies to prevent such traumatic incidents from happening again. In this case study, we will explore the terrifying events Kati, and her husband George, endured and the long-term consequences she continues to face. We aim to emphasize the importance of implementing stricter rules and regulations governing helicopter hoist control during helicopter rescues and adopting innovative technology and solutions like the Vita Rescue System™ to ensure the safety of both patients and rescuers.
In the summer of 2019, avid hikers, Kati and George Metro were enjoying a daily hike along the Circumference Trail in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. Kati lost her footing, fell, and immediately experienced pain in her left-side wrist, arm, hip, leg, and nose, but was not in obvious distress and she didn't feel she had emergent injuries. George felt Kati needed assistance and called emergency services for help and a helicopter responded. When the helicopter arrived, she felt overwhelming anxiety and fear, not fully understanding what was going to take place. She was zipped into a Bauman Bag that was strapped to a rescue litter. As her litter was raised, a sequence of unfortunate events unfolded, and Kati began to spin faster and faster in the rotorwash of the helicopter. [Rotorwash - The phenomenon of a rescue litter spinning under a helicopter occurs as a result of the aerodynamic forces generated by the helicopter’s rotor. The rotor’s downward flow of air creates a powerful column of rotating wind similar to the shape of an hourglass. As the rotor flow interacts with the litter, it can cause rotational movement of the litter that can spin out of control.] Body fluids were forced to the ends of her appendages causing severe swelling and bleeding of her capillaries in her head, face, and feet. The Biomechanical Analysis Report, provided by Beale, Michaels, Slack & Shughart, P.C., confirmed the rotational force exerted on Kati’s body was a centripetal acceleration of 16.9 Gs, creating a force of 161 to 213 lbs to as much as 23.8 Gs, with corresponding forces of 227 to 299 lbs.
Kati said “I knew I was bloating, and it came to my eyes and my eyes shut. I couldn’t open them and I could feel swelling…I knew I wasn’t dying because I could still feel pain, but I thought I lost my eyesight.”
Joseph Peles, Ph.D. (Causation Expert) performed a biomechanical assessment of the fall and high-velocity spinning event to evaluate the causation of Kati’s injuries. According to Dr. Peles, the spinning event would pull the head away from the shoulders with a force most probably exceeding 150 lbs for approximately 33 seconds and a force exceeding 200 lbs for approximately 9 seconds (of most rapid rotation). The endured traction forces on her head is comparable to being suspended upside down and having an NFL linebacker hang from her head. [Plaintiffs’ Mediation Memo]
Not only was her body enduring trauma, her mental health also suffered. As Kati was hoisted into the air, and began to spin, triggering an overwhelming sensation of nausea, she was afraid that if she vomited she would die from asphyxiation and there was nothing she would be able to do about it since she was strapped into the rescue bag. Kati was so disoriented, she thought she was already retrieved inside of the helicopter cabin and that the helicopter was spinning out of control -
“I thought I was in the helicopter spinning, I got nauseated and really scared.”
Her husband, George, who was witnessing the rescue from the ground, was horrified to see the extensive spinning. After 33.2 seconds of uncontrolled spinning (75 revolutions), Kati was eventually lowered down into a parking lot and taken to the hospital in an ambulance.
Following the rescue, Kati's suffering was far from over. The spinning event caused a combination of traction injury and contusion injury to Kati’s spinal cord, necessitating cervical spinal surgery and leaving Kati with severe and permanent injuries and months of physical therapy.
Long-term effects of the incident have been devastating for Kati. Her legs, feet, and overall motor skills have deteriorated, and she experienced persistent headaches and lightheadedness for some time after the incident. Nerve damage has further complicated her condition, leaving her unable to pursue activities she once enjoyed, like hiking. Her life has been permanently altered. She also continued to experience anxiety and flashbacks and didn’t enjoy going out in public for several months due to the press response and even memes made about her on nationally broadcast television shows. While the anxiety has mostly passed, she will be pursuing advice from a neurologist to address ongoing balance issues and head and neck pain that have recently flared back up.
Advocating for Change:
There is often a void in understanding the patient’s journey during these critical experiences. We can learn from the healthcare industry, in that they prioritize the patient experience which is paramount in informing positive change and solutions. Learning from the patient’s perspective serves as a pivotal catalyst for improvement. By gaining insights into the intricacies of a rescue operation, particularly when it involves uncontrolled hoists, the emergency response community can glean valuable lessons that contribute to the refinement of rescue protocols and procedures.
Specifically, Kati's experience highlights the critical need for change in the regulations governing helicopter hoist rescues. She, along with her family, advocates for the implementation of advanced technology like the Vita Rescue System™ to prevent such events from occurring in the future.
“We would like to have technology that takes the human error element out of the equation.”
The introduction of stricter regulations and innovative technology is vital to ensure the safety of patients like Kati and the brave individuals who perform these rescues.
“If we could have used your device, it would have been a life-saver [in terms of what I’ve endured] and we wouldn't be talking right now”, said Kati.
Kati Metro's traumatic helicopter rescue experience serves as a powerful testimony to the need for enhanced safety measures during helicopter hoist rescues. It is essential for lawmakers and regulatory bodies to prioritize this call for change and the implementation of advanced systems that will safeguard the lives of both patients and rescuers. Kati's ordeal should not be in vain, and her story should serve as a catalyst for comprehensive reform in helicopter rescue operations.
Vita Inclinata Technologies was founded on the belief that lack of technology should never be the difference between life and death for rescue crews and patients. In 2009, Vita founder Caleb Carr was practicing as a search and rescue volunteer in high school. During a routine training mission, his friend and mentor, Don, went into cardiac arrest next to him. A helicopter arrived to transport Don to the hospital, but couldn’t insert its rescue litter due to gusty winds, rotor wash, and the mountainous terrain. After multiple attempts, the helicopter was forced to turn back without them, and Don died as a result. Caleb learned that this was a fairly common problem that caused the loss of many lives. Carr first enrolled in college as an undergrad with dreams of going to medical school as his way to bring his personal mission to life, but a professor there challenged him to solve the problem that had cost his friend’s life. His resulting company, incorporated in 2015, enhances what’s possible for operational safety, efficiency and capability by utilizing the company’s patented intelligent lifting hardware and software that detects real-time movement and adjusts the load with high-powered fans to eliminate spinning, rotations, swinging or other problems that cause accidental injuries or fatalities. Learn more at www.vitatech.co and www.vitaaerospace.co
1. Metro, K., & Metro, G. (Personal communication, October 12, 2023). Interview with Katalin and George Metro.
2. Plaintiff's Mediation Memo provided by Beale, Michaels, Slack & Shughart, P.C. (August 2021).
3. Biomechanical Analysis Report conducted by BioREC, provided by Beale, Michaels, Slack & Shughart, P.C., (June 2021).