ADAC Luftrettung gGmbH is Europe’s largest air rescue organisation, with its own fleet of around 55 modern rescue helicopters, located at 37 different stations. These also include four stations that are active across national borders.
Air rescue makes it possible for emergency medics to access their patients quickly, as they can operate independently of traffic jams and road conditions caused by poor weather. In the event of accidents or heart attacks, that is more than simply an advantage: it can be the difference between life and death. Every minute counts.
Rescue helicopters also play an important role in respect of inter-hospital transfers. The quiet, smooth flight not only reduces transportation times; it also minimises the transport risks when transferring patients between hospitals. This improves the therapeutic treatment of patients.
In regions with terrain that is particularly difficult to access, such as mountainous regions or coasts, the rescue helicopters are equipped with rescue winches, with a medic being winched down from the aircraft to treat the patient, with the pilot holding the helicopter in stationary flight above the incident location.
The ADAC is the driving force in civilian air rescues in Germany. In 1967, the number of road deaths reached the sensational level of 20,000, and in response, emergency medics demanded better and, above all, quicker treatment of injured patients. This required a new concept of rapid response treatment, with medics needing to reach patients significantly more quickly, rather than patients being brought to the doctor. The first test flight took place in 1968 using a rented helicopter.
The first rescue helicopter, known as “Christoph 1” entered service in Munich’s Harlaching district on 1 November 1970, launching the expansion of aviation rescue services under public law in Germany.
According to ADAC, over 2.2 million rescue flights have taken place in Germany since then, with many people receiving rapid medical aid as a result. Moreover, ADAC has introduced many innovative concepts, such as the digital emergency protocol and medical quality management methodologies.
For every rescue helicopter flight, the crew consists of a pilot, a paramedic, and an emergency doctor. For helicopters that are equipped with an additional winch, an onboard technician or co-pilot also forms part of the crew. All crew members are highly qualified, fully trained, with further specialist education, as well as proven experience and qualifications.
The demands placed on the pilot of a rescue helicopter are some of the most stringent in the aviation industry. Most ADAC Air Rescue pilots trained with the police or army and must be able to demonstrate at least 1,000 flight hours, with at least 500 in an air rescue service or similarly challenging deployment. This is the only way that they can obtain the necessary experience to effect take-offs and landings in challenging terrain while transporting their patients safely.
Paramedics who fly with ADAC Air Rescue are mostly provided by local clinics, fire services, or other rescue organisations. Many years of experience as a trained paramedic, as well as training to become an HEMS technical crew member, are required, with HEMS standing for Helicopter Emergency Medical Service. This training is provided specifically for ADAC Air Rescue, with participants being brought up to speed with the specific aspects of serving with the air rescue service. The paramedic supports the emergency doctor in providing treatment to the patient and looks after the medical equipment, including medical devices, medicines, and consumables. During flight, the paramedic also handles radio traffic with the rescue services.
The emergency doctors who fly in the rescue and patient transportation helicopters are generally employed by local hospitals that are connected to the air rescue stations. While on a mission, injured patients often need to be treated fast, as they are generally in a critical condition. The requirements placed upon the doctor are accordingly high. Requirements for flying with the air rescue service include years of professional experience in rescue services on the ground as well as qualification as a doctor with specialist emergency training and qualifications, alongside physical fitness and overall good health.
All ADAC rescue helicopters feature an extensive range of medical equipment. For example, there are a variety of monitoring systems to check on the patient’s heart rhythm, blood pressure, and blood oxygen levels. Modern transportation ventilators allow transported patients’ breathing to be maintained safely. In addition, there are what is known as “emergency backpacks” that contain all necessary medicines, materials, and devices to provide the injured patient with comprehensive emergency treatment directly at the deployment location. All equipment carried in the helicopter can be removed without difficulty, ensuring that all medical equipment is fully mobile and can be used anywhere.
Intensive care transport helicopters, which are used to transport patients between hospitals, also include special intensive transport ventilators and other hardware that would also be found at an intensive care treatment station in a hospital. As such, these patients can be transported without interrupting their medical treatment.
ADAC Air Rescue helicopters are at the cutting edge of technology, both in terms of their medical equipment and as aircraft. High standards of equipment are a requirement for safe, quick treatment of patients, with quality and safety being extremely important to ADAC Air Rescue. As such, it also has three hangars of its own to maintain its fleet.
The H135 is the latest version in the EC135 range to join the ADAC Air Rescue fleet, with improved performance and a further reduction in fuel consumption. The twin-engined turbine helicopter has a range of over 600 kilometres and can remain in flight for 2 hours 25 minutes thanks to a tank capacity of 673 litres. The rotor blades are mounted within the tail, which reduces the risk of an accident. Moreover, the Fenestron tail rotor of the H135 helps to make this light helicopter among the quietest models in its class, resulting in notably low noise emissions.
The H145 is the latest rescue helicopter model in the ADAC Air Rescue fleet. It is, in fact, more than just a rescue helicopter, as it is also used for intensive patient transportation. In comparison to the H135, it offers significantly more room on board for crew members, with greater power output and lower noise emissions, as well as many other improvements to its medical equipment. This light, twin-engined, multi-purpose helicopter can also be used in terrain that is hard to access.
The ADAC laid the foundations for civilian air rescue in Germany. To date, the ADAC can claim credit for over 900,000 missions, helping many patients in the process. In 2016 alone, the ADAC rescue and intensive care patient transport helicopters were deployed on 54,444 occasions, and the ADAC’s commitment plays a significant role in the civilian air rescue field.