WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Trauma Hawk saves lives when seconds count. But the Health Care District of Palm Beach County told Contact 5 that a "worldwide severe pilot shortage" has grounded one of its two air ambulances.
It's a shortage Lindsay Grogan wants fixed because she knows firsthand how Trauma Hawk saves lives. Her son, Austin, was badly injured in a motorcycle crash in April 2016 on Southern Boulevard.
"From what we were told, it was the fastest response time Trauma Hawk has ever had," Grogan shared. "My son died twice. They revived him twice on the way to St. Mary's (Medical Center)."
The Health Care District of Palm Beach County operates Trauma Hawk 24 hours a day, seven days a week and adds a second air ambulance from noon to midnight. But the departure of two pilots and another shortly has forced the publicly funded taxing district to temporarily ground that second lifesaving air transport.
"There are pilots who have moved on for various reasons, including the fact that there's great demand for pilots in the aviation industry," Health Care District spokeswoman Robin Kish said. "The Health Care District is expeditiously working to fill three pilot positions until those positions are filled. We continue to provide uninterrupted 24/7 air transport coverage."
Kish told Contact 5 she's not aware of any request for Trauma Hawk being denied because of the shortage and said both helicopters are used simultaneously about three times a month.
Cade Clark with Helicopter Association International (https://rotor.org/) told Contact 5 the pilot shortage is not unique to the Health Care District.
"This is a problem the entire industry is facing," Clark said. "It's really been a perfect storm of increased cost, increased competition with airlines and the military trying to keep their pilots longer, which has reduced a smaller number of pilots available to the helicopter industry."
Prior to the pandemic, a 2018 study by the University of North Dakota and Helicopter Association International forecasted a nationwide shortage of 7,649 helicopter pilots by 2036. That's a big number considering schools produce about 600 to 800 helicopter pilots a year, Clark said.
"The services that the vertical aviation industry provides are legitimate services that the public does need, and without us flying, the community is hurt," Clark said.
Six years after Austin's crash, his mother and family are forever grateful for Trauma Hawk.
"To look at him, you'd say there's nothing wrong with him. We call him the 'Man of Steel,'" she said. "There's not enough money in the world to repay what they gave me."
Kish provided WPTV with a complete statement Tuesday:
"The Health Care District of Palm Beach County is now operating one of its two Trauma Hawk aircraft on a 24/7 basis. This temporary scheduling change is the same standard operating procedure that is followed daily from midnight to noon and is the result of a pilot shortage that is impacting the aviation industry nationwide. The Health Care District is actively recruiting new pilots. This new schedule will continue to provide the capacity and readiness necessary to serve our community in conjunction with support from other ground and air services. Once staffing, training and FAA certification is complete, the second aircraft will resume its normal noon to midnight schedule."