On the German news website BILD, there is a short video clip about a patient near Lauterbach being too large and with 150kg too heavy for the helicopter. Another source.

Images on the site show it has D-HUTH written on top, which is the registration for a model EC-135 P2i.

How much of the story is true and how much is overexaggeration?

Since I got asked for references: Normal article, no mention of the size/weight problem, the guy in the video only mentions it when they tried to get him out of the car: https://m.osthessen-news.de/beitrag.php?id=11674876

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    $\begingroup$ I can't answer this question directly because I don't fly that helicopter, but I can say that in generic air ambulance work, our hardest task is getting the patient + stretcher through the door. $\endgroup$
    – Steve V.
    Apr 15 at 7:17
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    $\begingroup$ The article says that the man did not fit into the helicopter due to his weight and size. I think the bigger problem was not lifting capacity, but getting the patient on the stretcher into the helicopter, both due to their size and due to the weight. Remember that someone has to lift the stretcher into the helicopter. $\endgroup$
    – Polygnome
    Apr 15 at 19:16
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    $\begingroup$ It's worth remembering that it is extremely common that news articles are simply: often hopelessly incorrect. Reporters completely muddle words or concepts. This is essentially the normal state of affairs. $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Apr 16 at 18:31
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    $\begingroup$ @Fattie BILD is a paper which is a bit special. There is an old joke: 50 people die in an accident - BILD talks first to the dead. $\endgroup$
    – Offler
    Apr 17 at 18:39
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    $\begingroup$ People can be too heavy to leave their house without cutting the wall open and using a crane. Darlene Cates "known for her role in the 1993 film What's Eating Gilbert Grape, in which she played the title character's housebound mother." $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Apr 17 at 22:13

5 Answers 5


150 kg being too heavy to lift for an ambulance EC-135 is not very believable.

enter image description here

Screenshot above is from this site, stating a max payload/fuel weight of 1,375 kg with one 80 kg pilot on board. With a maximum fuel load of 560.4 kg, this leaves 814.6 kg payload capacity.

enter image description here

The advanced rescue EMS kit is depicted on page 56, including 2 seats, a stretcher, life support & oxygen systems etc, and is stated to weigh 142.1 kg. With 2 medivac personnel plus a co-pilot of 80 kg each and maximum fuel on board, patient weight capacity would be 432.5 kg - a lot more than the 150 kg that supposedly Bild claimed was too heavy for the helicopter. (Tried to verify on Bild.de but did not want to agree to advertising cookies).

The EC-135 is a twin engine helicopter that can continue flying and landing upon a single engine failure - even taking off with One Engine Inoperative is possible with a reduced gross weight of 2,870 kg @ ISA + 20°C. So even with OEI, a patient of 150kg would be no issue.

enter image description here

Another possible problem could have been the physical size of the patient. The payload section of the cabin interior measures 2.5m long and 1.5m wide. It is possible to place 3 seats side-by-side - at 50 cm each that would leave about 1 metre width for the patient. Loading a stretcher with 150 kg on board could be an issue with handling - but there are systems designed for handling patients over 300 kg (bariatric patients), as mentioned on this site:

“On the rotor wing operation, Ornge has invested in ensuring we have the right aircraft with the right equipment to maximize support for bariatric patients,” said Pyke. “Our AW139 helicopters are well equipped to handle bariatric patient operations. We have partnered with HeliMods to install a PAL system based on Stryker power equipment. This provides a no-lift solution to loading and securing of patients up to 700lb (318kg), depending on clinical equipment requirements.”


The linked RTL article states in the headline that the patient was too heavy, in the article itself mentions (translated from German):

According to the fire brigade, however, the helicopter flies back without the man, as the 30-year-old does not fit into the helicopter due to his weight and size.

So there was a size and weight issue - indeed perhaps a stretcher issue as @GremlinWranger suggests in a comment, however not a payload issue.

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    $\begingroup$ Is there in data on the limits of the stretcher or securing system? Issue may have been safely moving and loading the patient. A quick check suggest aviation stretchers are rated to around 180kg, but there may be additional issues with door height or size in play here. $\endgroup$ Apr 15 at 1:00
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for citing the no-patient weight and remaining payload. $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Apr 15 at 1:27
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    $\begingroup$ @JörgWMittag The RTL article mentions that the heli arrived from Siegen, 150 km distant. The Eurocopter link specifies cruising speed of about 250 km/h @ 234 kg/h, so about 150 kg $\endgroup$
    – Koyovis
    Apr 15 at 10:26
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    $\begingroup$ And what about altitude? Around here most of the choppers can't even reach the top of the local mountains. $\endgroup$ Apr 16 at 22:16
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    $\begingroup$ You can see the rear door's size at around 8 minutes in this video: youtube.com/watch?v=DE77bAup2xk (EC-135 ambulance variant in Hungary) Add the stretcher's height to the patient, and you can see the space is very limited. $\endgroup$
    – Nyos
    Apr 17 at 13:54

Former helo pilot here.... I agree with the above regarding the overall weight of the aircraft probably not being an issue. Could have been the size of the patient, as mentioned.

But I have two more ideas:

  1. Everything in a helicopter has to be tied down to the airframe in a way that makes a crash survivable. It could be that the stretcher and its associated tie-downs are only rated up to a certain total weight of stretcher + human.

  2. There may be a requirement that the flight medic be able to move the patient himself to deal with potential in-flight emergencies and the weight limit is actually due to human factors.

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    $\begingroup$ As a former Red Cross volunteer helper (never coming close to the helicopters, though), I remember that our ambulance stretchers were only certified up to something like 130 kg weight of patient. Maybe that played in. $\endgroup$
    – Jan
    Apr 15 at 13:04

Thanks for providing the links. The EC135 is a fairly large helicopter. No Mi-26, but it's not an R22 either.
Any helicopter of this size is well capable of lifting a larger than average any human.

150kg isn't the kind of weight that could cause such an issue. The flight must have been planned for a 80-100kg person, so the extra 50kg is within the margins.

According to the article,

The maximum take-off weight of 2910 kilos would have been exceeded.

This explanation does not ring true.

The helicopter has taken off from somewhere, before landing at the accident site. It has used up some fuel during the flight. The amount of fuel used getting to the accident site would very likely be 150 kg or more.

Even if the helicopter took off at maximum load and the accident site was very close to its takeoff point, steps can be taken to mitigate it. One of the paramedics can step off the helicopter, for instance.

The MTOW isn't absolute, but a general limit for most cases. It is affected by weather and altitude.

Lauterbach is below 500 meters. The weather in Germany on the day of the event was around +10C. This means full engine power is available and a bit more if necessary (intermediate contingency). When addressing a medical emergency, it's acceptable to operate at the margins.

There might have been some other issue preventing the patient from being loaded into the helicopter. It wasn't the risk of exceeding its MTOW.

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    $\begingroup$ "The amount of fuel used getting to the accident site would very likely be 150 kg or more." – According to Koyovis's comment, the fuel burn for the flight to the accident site would have been almost exactly 150kg. So, if they couldn't take off with the patient on board, then they would also not have been able to take off with the extra 150kg of fuel to get to the accident site in the first place! $\endgroup$ Apr 15 at 11:32
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    $\begingroup$ @JörgWMittag: That simplification does not account for potential altitude differences between the take-off site and the location of the patient. If the patient was located in a mountainous area, the heli could be much closer to its service ceiling and unable to take off with an excessive load. $\endgroup$
    – dotancohen
    Apr 17 at 5:33

As stated by other anwers, the situation was not about weight. With pilot, full fuel and two medical personnel, regardless of the equipment packages there would still be at least 200kg of payload left. The Helicopter was not fully fueled as it had just flown 150km to the accident site.

The reporter has either misunderstood information given, or was given a wrong information.

Most likely this is an issue with the physical size of the patient. A person weighing 150kg is about twice my weight. I'm average size, so if I imagine a severely overweight person with considerable amounts of extra bodily fat (fat tissue is less dense than muscle), the sheer size of the person will be problematic when loading onboard a helicopter. If the person is shorter than average, the problem is emphasized.

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    $\begingroup$ Well, for example that is an 155 kg man: i.dailymail.co.uk/1s/2021/05/19/15/… Would you think that this is an overweight/fat issue? $\endgroup$
    – Offler
    Apr 17 at 18:48
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    $\begingroup$ Well if we look at BMI, he would be overweight 😂 While that guy is not fat, the problem with fitting him inside the chopper would be the same. $\endgroup$
    – Jpe61
    Apr 17 at 21:19

It just might be the stretcher - the ones I checked are only rated for 150kg so quite likely this might have been the main issue.

  • $\begingroup$ I don’t know about Germany but here in Austria I think they are using (or at least were using) the Stryker stretchers which are rated up to 227kg. $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Apr 15 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ I admit my search was not the most complete, but that were the first results I found - and one of the possibly valid information for these kind of incidents. $\endgroup$
    – tsg
    Apr 16 at 6:47
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    $\begingroup$ It's worth mentioning that 150, 200 and 250 kg are semi-standard "max weight" placards on medical equipment. I professionally work with developing medical imaging techniques and 150 kg and 250 kg are by far the commonest weight limits for the patient tables on both CT and MRI scanners. $\endgroup$
    – Landak
    Apr 16 at 11:36

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