Erlanger's Life Force helicopters returning to service following crash in North Carolina

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / A Life Force helicopter lands at Tyner Academy on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022.

Erlanger Health System's Life Force helicopters are returning to service after being grounded following a nonfatal crash Thursday evening in Macon County, North Carolina, officials announced Tuesday.

Erlanger had suspended Life Force operations until crews felt safe and ready to return. In the interim, other air medical providers around the region have been providing patient transportation.

Thursday's crash was the first in the 34-year history of Erlanger's Life Force program, officials said.

"In accordance with our safety culture, the stand-down allowed time to process the event, review and perform safety checks and ensure we are well prepared to return to service," Robbie Tester, Erlanger vice president of patient logistics, said in a statement Tuesday.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga's Erlanger Health System upgrades Life Force with new helicopter)

As a result of Thursday's crash, one crew member was evaluated and released from a local hospital, while the others were admitted to Mission Hospital in Asheville in stable condition. All crew members have since been released from the hospital and are recovering at home, Erlanger spokeswoman Blaine Kelley said via email Tuesday

At the time of the crash, the helicopter was transporting a patient from Erlanger's hospital in Murphy, North Carolina, to a hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, for additional medical care. Kelley said she did not have an updated status for the patient who was being transported.

"Last I heard, they were still in the hospital but in good spirits," she said in an email.

(READ MORE: Erlanger's Life Force helicopter will no longer be based in Chattanooga)

Life Force has air ambulance stations in Cleveland, Winchester and Sparta in Tennessee; Blue Ridge and Calhoun in Georgia; and Murphy, North Carolina. Combined, the helicopters transport roughly 3,000 patients each year, according to data previously shared by Erlanger.

Tester thanked Air Evac 44, Air Life 14, UT Lifestar and Vanderbilt Life Flight for stepping in to provide transport services while Life Force was grounded.

"We deeply appreciate the support and patience of our partners, colleagues and community through this difficult time," Tester said. "Our team is looking forward to getting back to and serving our communities."

Contact Elizabeth Fite at or 423-757-6673.