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Fired pilot claims flights to CHCC were dangerous

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Lifesaving helicopter flights to Children's Hospital Central California may have put crews and patients in danger, according to a former pilot now suing his old bosses.

The hospital contracts out to a company called Med-Trans for use of the helicopter known as "Air George."

Med-Trans is now facing a lawsuit from a pilot it fired, and the lawsuit makes some frightening claims about what happens behind the scenes.

Deverin Karol says he set out to help sick children, but claims he ended up in a pressure cooker where his safety and the safety of the kids he flew from hospital to hospital was not always the top priority.

In their sickest hour, young patients rely on "Air George" to deliver them to Children's Hospital Central California. The rides are often life or death for the kids.

Now, one of the pilots who made those precious deliveries on Med-Trans helicopters claims in a lawsuit that in his three and a half years with the company, there were dozens of flights where everyone was in danger.

"Some of the things we learned about were putting lives in danger," said Karol's attorney, Arnold Peter.

Karol says he often felt pressure from supervisors to fly despite safety concerns -- like the day he was asked to fly while extremely tired.

"I was just like, 'It's 4 in the morning. I've been up for 20 hours straight. There's no way I can do this safely,'" he said. "So, I turned the mission down. The hospital is fine with it. They're like, 'Oh, we kind of figured you were going to turn that down.' The next day, the company won't say 'Why'd you turn that mission down?' They'll say, 'What can we do in the future so this doesn't happen again?'"

Another time, Karol says he got in trouble after letting his crew from the hospital know about a safety problem he found right before taking off.

He says this was the exchange that followed:

Supervisor: Why did you tell the hospital you found a grease gun on top of a rotor hole?

Karol: Well, they were there when I pulled it down.

Supervisor: Why did you tell them what would've happened?

Karol: They're getting in the helicopter with me. They're entitled to know if that had fallen in the hole it would've been bad.

Med-Trans has had two fatal accidents in the last ten years, but none in the last seven and none in California, although this government report details an emergency landing in 2004 in Madera. Investigators concluded that inadequate maintenance inspections were partly to blame.

Action News reached out to Med-Trans company executives and attorneys, who would only comment on their safety record, calling the company an industry leader in safety training. But in court documents, they have responded to some of the pilot's specific accusations.

"Karol's serial disruptive behavior created a significant burden for management," they claimed in a defendant's statement filed in U.S. federal court. They say the last straw was when he falsified a mission log.

"That was it," Karol said. "That was the entire reason for termination."

Karol says it's true -- someone definitely falsified the log to show he probably shouldn't have taken the flight -- but it wasn't him, and it was just an excuse to get rid of a headache pointing out serious problems with safety.

Karol's case is not scheduled for trial until March 2013. He says he doesn't expect to get much money out of the lawsuit, but he wants to make sure the flights are safe. The lawsuit doesn't target Children's Hospital and a spokesperson there declined comment.

(Copyright ©2014 KFSN-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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lawsuit, local, corin hoggard
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