US Analysts Dive Deep on Top Killers

By James T. McKenna | January 6, 2017
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Medstar EMS Bell Helicopter 407GXP

Most accidents between 2009 and 2013 involved aircraft including air ambulances. Photo courtesy of Medstar EMS

Safety analysts plan to gather near Washington the week of Jan. 9 to study steps that might help combat what they consider the top three killers in helicopter accidents.

Those killers are accidents involving loss of control, unintended flight into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) — also called inadvertent encounters with IMC — and low-level operations.


The analysts are members of the U.S. Helicopter Safety Team, which has set itself a goal of reducing fatal helicopter accidents by 20% reduction by 2020.

Last year, the U.S. team completed what it called a comprehensive analysis of U.S. fatal helicopter accidents that happened in 2009 through 2013. Of 104 fatal accidents, the team found, half involved loss of control, unintended flight into IMC or low-level operations. They accounted for more than 100 deaths, the team calculated. That total was more than the next eight types of accidents combined.

For those reasons, the team decided to focus much of its safety efforts on those three accident types. Team members will meet starting Jan. 9 at Helicopter Assn. International headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, to begin a "deep dive" into the causes of those accident types to see if they can identify previously overlooked or underutilized means of preventing such crashes, one team officials said. They will start with loss-of-control accidents.

The team aims to begin issuing recommendations for measures to reduce such accidents by April or shortly thereafter.

The U.S. team’s meeting coincides with the gathering of the executive committee of the International Helicopter Safety Team, which is pressing on with its work to improve the helicopter safety record after missing its 10-year goal of an 80% reduction in rotorcraft accidents by 2016. The U.S. team is a regional partner of the international one.

Of the 104 fatal accidents analyzed, the U.S. team also said, most involved personal or private flights or ones by helicopter air ambulance, commercial or aerial application operators. The team is working to strengthen its outreach to those industry segments by identifying points of contact within them, involving key people in seminars and industry meetings and attending conventions and safety gatherings relevant to the segments.

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