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The pilot of a medical helicopter twice radioed for help in foggy weather before crashing Sunday, killing four of the five people on board in the latest of a growing number of air ambulance accidents, authorities said.

The medical helicopter was carrying victims of a traffic accident when it went down in a suburban Washington park. It was the deadliest medevac helicopter accident in Maryland since the State Police began flying those missions nearly 40 years ago, and the eighth fatal medical helicopter crash in the last 12 months nationwide. About 30 people have died during that period, National Transportation Safety Board member Debbie Hersman said.

Crashes of medical aircraft have been increasing since the 1990s, in part because it is a booming business, fueled by the closing of emergency rooms in rural areas and an aging population, according to the National EMS Pilots Association. However, the state-run program in Maryland does not charge for its services, and was known for its safety record. It has had just three other fatal helicopter crashes in four decades.

"We are the only operation in the country that has the multiple mission of medevac, search and rescue, law enforcement, homeland security," State Police spokesman Greg Shipley said. "It's a very unique situation."


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