Oopsie! Air Force tiltrotor aircraft demolishes English hospital helipad

Jim Thompson
Northwest Florida Daily News

SUFFOLK, England — A CV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft from a wing of the Hurlburt Field-headquartered Air Force Special Operations Command demolished the helicopter landing pad at a British hospital during training operations on Wednesday.

There were no injuries in the incident and no aircraft were damaged, according to the U.S. Air Force. 

The CV-22 Osprey, from the 352nd Special Operations Wing (SOW) at RAF Mildenhall, a Royal Air Force station near Suffolk, was conducting medical transfer training at Addenbrooke's Hospital at the time of the incident, according to Air Force Maj. Keavy Rake, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Air Force Host Nation Coordinating Cell (HNCC) at RAF Mildenhall. The HNCC works with local officials across a range of issues.

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According to a late Friday morning (U.S. Central Daylight Time) statement from the HNCC, the training was arranged "to assist in providing local forces with a casualty evacuation capability." The training marked the first time the 352nd SOW had conducted training at the Addenbrooke's Hospital helipad, according to the HNCC statement.

Also according to the statement, "(p)lanners for the exercise assessed the area of execution prior to the exercise and coordinated with ... the manufacturer of the landing pad, hospital staff and the Addenbrooke’s East Anglian Air Ambulance units."

A YouTube video of the incident shows the Osprey approaching the helipad — a series of heavy and interconnected mats outside the hospital — and landing without incident.

But at a little over 2 minutes, the YouTube video shows the Osprey on departure from the hospital with its engines configured for helicopter-style operation. The Osprey's rotor downwash lifts sections of the helipad into the air and scatters them as the Osprey continues its ascent and flies away.

A CV-22 Osprey from Air Force Special Operations Command, like the one shown here flying near Hurlburt Field, demolished the helipad at an English hospital during a training exercise Wednesday

Following the the incident, the HNCC "responded to the area to mitigate damage and clear the area of debris and continue to work quickly to get the helipad back to fully operational use," Rake said in a Friday email to the Northwest Florida Daily News.

Landing pad damage caused disruption at the hospital

As of Friday, Addenbrooke's Hospital officials had confirmed to British media that a temporary landing site had been opened at the facility, which is the region's only major trauma center.

But during the time that no landing zone was available, helicopters bringing patients to the hospital had to use a landing zone 3 miles away at Cambridge City Airport, where patients then were driven to the hospital.

According to British media reports, rebuilding work remains for the helipad. Hospital officials told CambridgeshireLive, a news website, that they could not, as of Friday, provide any details on the cost of the damage or who would pay for it.

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Rake said in his email to the Daily News that the U.S. Air Force will pay for any needed work.

Friday's statement from the HNCC noted that the helipad "is currently open for emergency day-use" and that debris from the incident "was cleared by the USAF and MoD (United Kingdom Ministry of Defence) teams within 24 hours."

The statement added that "U.S. forces and U.K. MoD are coordinating to rectify the situation as quickly as possible, and will continue to work with local partners to return the area to its original state."

Rake — who was also serving a spokeswoman for the 352nd SOW — said the Air Force surveyed the area following the incident and confirmed that “some damage did occur."

"We are taking steps to rectify as soon as possible," Rake said in the email as British media were reporting the opening of the temporary landing site at Addenbrooke's Hospital.

"Our units are continuously coordinating with our local partners to improve operations," Rake continued, adding that the Air Force is "greatly appreciative of the relationship and coordination we have with the U.K.”

The statement from the HNCC said "(w)e regret any disruption caused to the hospital and the associated emergency services, and truly appreciate their understanding and the longstanding relationship and partnership between the U.S. and U.K."

'Thankfully no one was hurt' in Osprey takeoff incident

The 352nd SOW sent out a public service announcement in advance of Wednesday's events to let people know when and where the training would occur. An announcement published early Wednesday on the wing's Facebook page noted that the training would occur "during the day hours. The CV-22B Osprey will execute medical-transfer training operations and then depart the hospital shortly after. Planners for the exercise have assessed the area and our crews will follow all relevant procedures. Should you have any questions or concerns regarding the training, you may contact the Host Nation Coordination Cell at 48FW.PA@us.af.mil."

The Facebook post got some angry reaction in the wake of the destruction of the helipad.

"Drive there in a truck next time guys, don't try your silly stunts on our landing strips," one person wrote, while another comment suggested that the 352nd SOW should "review your ... assessments for suitability of Osprey Ops (operations) going forward ... !"

But according to Cambridgeshire Live, some social media commenters found fault with Addenbrooke's Hospital.

According to the news website, one Facebook comment read, "In other news the poorly constructed helipad was not adequate for the downdraft from a US Osprey, thankfully no one was hurt on the ground or in the Osprey by dislodged flying materials."

The news website also quoted another Facebook post reading, "This is Addenbrooke's fault they had the money to build a proper pad. This could have been so much worse especially if the debris hit the rotors or engines."