AIM 10-2-3

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10-2-3. Landing Zone Safety

a. This information is provided for use by helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) pilots, program managers, medical personnel, law enforcement, fire, and rescue personnel to further their understanding of the safety issues concerning Landing Zones (LZs). It is recommended that HEMS operators establish working relationships with the ground responder organizations they may come in contact with in their flight operations and share this information in order to establish a common frame of reference for LZ selection, operations, and safety.

b. The information provided is largely based on the booklet, LZ - Preparing the Landing Zone, issued by National Emergency Medical Services Pilots Association (NEMSPA), and the guidance developed by the University of Tennessee Medical Center's LIFESTAR program, and is used with their permission. For additional information, go to

c. Information concerning the estimation of wind velocity is based on the Beaufort Scale. See for more information.

d. Selecting a Scene LZ

1. If the situation requires the use of a helicopter, first check to see if there is an area large enough to land a helicopter safely.

FIG 10-2-4 Recommended Minimum Landing Zone Dimensions

2. For the purposes of FIG 10-2-4 the following are provided as examples of relative helicopter size:

(a) Small Helicopter: Bell 206/407, Eurocopter AS-350/355, BO-105, BK-117.

(b) Medium Helicopter: Bell UH-1 (Huey) and derivatives (Bell 212/412), Bell 222/230/430 Sikorsky S-76, Eurocopter SA-365.

(c) Large Helicopter: Boeing Chinook, Eurocopter Puma, Sikorsky H-60 series (Blackhawk), SK-92.

3. The LZ should be level, firm and free of loose debris that could possibly blow up into the rotor system.

4. The LZ should be clear of people, vehicles and obstructions such as trees, poles and wires. Remember that wires are difficult to see from the air. The LZ must also be free of stumps, brush, post and large rocks. See FIG 10-2-5.

FIG 10-2-5 Landing Zone Hazards

5. Keep spectators back at least 200 feet. Keep emergency vehicles 100 feet away and have fire equipment (if available) standing by. Ground personnel should wear eye protection, if available, during landing and takeoff operations. To avoid loose objects being blown around in the LZ, hats should be removed; if helmets are worn, chin straps must be securely fastened.

6. Fire fighters (if available) should wet down the LZ if it is extremely dusty.

e. Helping the Flightcrew Locate the Scene

1. If the LZ coordinator has access to a GPS unit, the exact latitude and longitude of the LZ should be relayed to the HEMS pilot. If unable to contact the pilot directly, relay the information to the HEMS ground communications specialist for relaying to the pilot, so that they may locate your scene more efficiently. Recognize that the aircraft may approach from a direction different than the direct path from the takeoff point to the scene, as the pilot may have to detour around terrain, obstructions or weather en route.

2. Especially in daylight hours, mountainous and densely populated areas can make sighting a scene from the air difficult. Often, the LZ coordinator on the ground will be asked if she or he can see or hear the helicopter.

3. Flightcrews use a clock reference method for directing one another's attention to a certain direction from the aircraft. The nose of the aircraft is always 12 o'clock, the right side is 3 o'clock, etc. When the LZ coordinator sees the aircraft, he/she should use this method to assist the flightcrew by indicating the scene's clock reference position from the nose of the aircraft. For example, “Accident scene is located at your 2 o'clock position.” See FIG 10-2-6.

FIG 10-2-6 "Clock" System for Identifying Positions Relative to the Nose of the Aircraft

4. When the helicopter approaches the scene, it will normally orbit at least one time as the flight crew observes the wind direction and obstacles that could interfere with the landing. This is often referred to as the “high reconnaissance” maneuver.

f. Wind Direction and Touchdown Area

1. Determine from which direction the wind is blowing. Helicopters normally land and takeoff into the wind.

2. If contact can be established with the pilot, either directly or indirectly through the HEMS ground communications specialist, describe the wind in terms of the direction the wind is from and the speed.

3. Common natural sources of wind direction information are smoke, dust, vegetation movement, water streaks and waves. Flags, pennants, streamers can also be used. When describing the direction, use the compass direction from which the wind is blowing (example: from the North-West).

4. Wind speed can be measured by small hand-held measurement devices, or an observer's estimate can be used to provide velocity information. The wind value should be reported in knots (nautical miles per hour). If unable to numerically measure wind speed, use TBL 10-2-3 to estimate velocity. Also, report if the wind conditions are gusty, or if the wind direction or velocity is variable or has changed recently.

5. If any obstacle(s) exist, insure their description, position and approximate height are communicated to the pilot on the initial radio call.

TBL 10-2-3 Table of Common References for Estimating Wind Velocity
On the Water On Land
Less than 1 Calm Sea surface smooth and mirror-like Calm, smoke rises vertically
1-3 Light Air Scaly ripples, no foam crests Smoke drift indicates wind direction, wind vanes are still
4-6 Light Breeze Small wavelets, crests glassy, no breaking Wind felt on face, leaves rustle, vanes begin to move
7-10 Gentle Breeze Large wavelets, crests begin to break, scattered whitecaps Leaves and small twigs constantly moving, light flags extended
11-16 Moderate Breeze Small waves 1-4 ft. becoming longer, numerous whitecaps Dust, leaves, and loose paper lifted, small tree branches move
17-21 Fresh Breeze Moderate waves 4-8 ft. taking longer form, many whitecaps, some spray Small trees in leaf begin to sway
22-27 Strong Breeze Larger waves 8-13 ft., whitecaps common, more spray Larger tree branches moving, whistling in wires
28-33 Near Gale Sea heaps up, waves 13-20 ft., white foam streaks off breakers Whole trees moving, resistance felt walking against wind
34-40 Gale Moderately high (13-20 ft.) waves of greater length, edges of crests begin to break into spindrift, foam blown in streaks Whole trees in motion, resistance felt walking against wind
41-47 Strong Gale High waves (20 ft.), sea begins to roll, dense streaks of foam, spray may reduce visibility Slight structural damage occurs, slate blows off roofs
48-55 Storm Very high waves (20-30 ft.) with overhanging crests, sea white with densely blown foam, heavy rolling, lowered visibility Seldom experienced on land, trees broken or uprooted, "considerable structural damage"
56-63 Violent Storm Exceptionally high (30-45 ft.) waves, foam patches cover sea, visibility more reduced
64+ Hurricane Air filled with foam, waves over 45 ft., sea completely white with driving spray, visibility greatly reduced

Wind from the South-East, estimated speed 15 knots. Wind shifted from North-East about fifteen minutes ago, and is gusty.

g. Night LZs

1. There are several ways to light a night LZ:

(a) Mark the touchdown area with five lights or road flares, one in each corner and one indicating the direction of the wind. See FIG 10-2-7.

FIG 10-2-7 Recommended Lighting for Landing Zone Operations at Night

Road flares are an intense source of ignition and may be unsuitable or dangerous in certain conditions. In any case, they must be closely managed and firefighting equipment should be present when used. Other light sources are preferred, if available.

(b) If chemical light sticks may be used, care should be taken to assure they are adequately secured against being dislodged by the helicopter's rotor wash.

(c) Another method of marking a LZ uses four emergency vehicles with their low beam headlights aimed toward the intended landing area.

(d) A third method for marking a LZ uses two vehicles. Have the vehicles direct their headlight beams into the wind, crossing at the center of the LZ. (If fire/rescue personnel are available, the reflective stripes on their bunker gear will assist the pilot greatly.)

2. At night, spotlights, flood lights and hand lights used to define the LZ are not to be pointed at the helicopter. However, they are helpful when pointed toward utility poles, trees or other hazards to the landing aircraft. White lights such as spotlights, flashbulbs and hi-beam headlights ruin the pilot's night vision and temporarily blind him. Red lights, however, are very helpful in finding accident locations and do not affect the pilot's night vision as significantly.

3. As in Day LZ operations, ensure radio contact is accomplished between ground and air, if possible.

h. Ground Guide

1. When the helicopter is in sight, one person should assist the LZ Coordinator by guiding the helicopter into a safe landing area. In selecting an LZ Coordinator, recognize that medical personnel usually are very busy with the patient at this time. It is recommended that the LZ Coordinator be someone other than a medical responder, if possible. Eye protection should be worn. The ground guide should stand with his/her back to the wind and his/her arms raised over his/her head (flashlights in each hand for night operations.)

2. The pilot will confirm the LZ sighting by radio. If possible, once the pilot has identified the LZ, the ground guide should move out of the LZ.

3. As the helicopter turns into the wind and begins a descent, the LZ coordinator should provide assistance by means of radio contact, or utilize the “unsafe signal” to wave off the helicopter if the LZ is not safe (see FIG 10-2-8). The LZ Coordinator should be far enough from the touchdown area that he/she can still maintain visual contact with the pilot.

i. Assisting the Crew

1. After the helicopter has landed, do not approach the helicopter. The crew will approach you.

2. Be prepared to assist the crew by providing security for the helicopter. If asked to provide security, allow no one but the crew to approach the aircraft.

3. Once the patient is prepared and ready to load, allow the crew to open the doors to the helicopter and guide the loading of the patient.

4. When approaching or departing the helicopter, always be aware of the tail rotor and always follow the directions of the crew. Working around a running helicopter can be potentially dangerous. The environment is very noisy and, with exhaust gases and rotor wash, often windy. In scene operations, the surface may be uneven, soft, or slippery which can lead to tripping. Be very careful of your footing in this environment.

5. The tail rotor poses a special threat to working around a running helicopter. The tail rotor turns many times faster than the main rotor, and is often invisible even at idle engine power. Avoid walking towards the tail of a helicopter beyond the end of the cabin, unless specifically directed by the crew.

Helicopters typically have doors on the sides of the cabin, but many use aft mounted “clamshell” type doors for loading and unloading patients on litters or stretchers. When using these doors, it is important to avoid moving any further aft than necessary to operate the doors and load/unload the patient. Again, always comply with the crew's instructions.

j. General Rules

1. When working around helicopters, always approach and depart from the front, never from the rear. Approaching from the rear can increase your risk of being struck by the tail rotor, which, when at operating engine speed, is nearly invisible.

2. To prevent injury or damage from the main rotor, never raise anything over your head.

3. If the helicopter landed on a slope, approach and depart from the down slope side only.

4. When the helicopter is loaded and ready for take off, keep the departure path free of vehicles and spectators. In an emergency, this area is needed to execute a landing.

k. Hazardous Chemicals and Gases

1. Responding to accidents involving hazardous materials requires special handling by fire/rescue units on the ground. Equally important are the preparations and considerations for helicopter operations in these areas.

2. Hazardous materials of concern are those which are toxic, poisonous, flammable, explosive, irritating, or radioactive in nature. Helicopter ambulance crews normally don't carry protective suits or breathing apparatuses to protect them from hazardous materials.

3. The helicopter ambulance crew must be told of hazardous materials on the scene in order to avoid the contamination of the crew. Patients/victims contaminated by hazardous materials may require special precautions in packaging before loading on the aircraft for the medical crew's protection, or may be transported by other means.

4. Hazardous chemicals and gases may be fatal to the unprotected person if inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

5. Upon initial radio contact, the helicopter crew must be made aware of any hazardous gases in the area. Never assume that the crew has already been informed. If the aircraft were to fly through the hazardous gases, the crew could be poisoned and/or the engines could develop mechanical problems.

6. Poisonous or irritating gases may cling to a victim's clothing and go unnoticed until the patient is loaded and the doors of the helicopter are closed. To avoid possible compromise of the crew, all of these patients must be decontaminated prior to loading.

l. Hand Signals

1. If unable to make radio contact with the HEMS pilot, use the following signals:

FIG 10-2-8 Recommended Landing Zone Ground Signals

m. Emergency Situations

1. In the event of a helicopter accident in the vicinity of the LZ, consider the following:

(a) Emergency Exits:

(1) Doors and emergency exits are typically prominently marked. If possible, operators should familiarize ground responders with the door system on their helicopter in preparation for an emergency event.

(2) In the event of an accident during the LZ operation, be cautious of hazards such as sharp and jagged metal, plastic windows, glass, any rotating components, such as the rotors, and fire sources, such as the fuel tank(s) and the engine.

(b) Fire Suppression:

Helicopters used in HEMS operations are usually powered by turboshaft engines, which use jet fuel. Civil HEMS aircraft typically carry between 50 and 250 gallons of fuel, depending upon the size of the helicopter, and planned flight duration, and the fuel remaining after flying to the scene. Use water to control heat and use foam over fuel to keep vapors from ignition sources.

Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) — Chapter 10
10-1-1 - 10-1-2 - 10-1-3 - 10-1-4 - 10-2-1 - 10-2-2 - 10-2-3 - 10-2-4