Cell phones are not just hazardous on the roadways, but can be in the air as well. Pilot distraction was a significant factor in the crash of an Enstrom 280FX helicopter last July 18 in Ireland, according to a new, final report on the accident by the Ireland Air Accident Investigation Unit.
The Chinese-owned Enstrom Helicopter Corp. builds 280FX piston-powered helicopters that have made recent inroads in the European trainer market.
In the July 18 accident, the pilot was practicing maneuvers, including quick stops, hover and hover-taxi, in a tidal lagoon near Carrahane Strand in County Kerry.
"The pilot had decided to take a short break from practice and elected to land in the lagoon which had a landing surface of soft, wet sand," according to the AAIU report. "When the helicopter was touching the ground but still light on the skids, the pilot’s mobile telephone rang. He glanced at the telephone which was mounted on a bracket beside the instrument panel in order to identify the caller. The pilot reported that, at the same time as this momentary distraction, a gust of wind from the west hit the right-hand side of the helicopter. The helicopter rolled on to its left-hand side causing significant damage."
The AAIU said the wind tipped the helicopter over in the soft sand, as the left skid served as a pivot point for the "dynamic rollover." The pilot was uninjured.
The FAA Rotorcraft Flying Handbook advises pilots on recognizing dynamic rollover and quickly recovering from it.
"The FAA states that once started, dynamic rollover cannot be stopped by the application of opposite cyclic alone," according to the AAIU report. "Even when full opposite cyclic is applied, the main rotor thrust vector and its moment follows the helicopter as it continues to roll. Quickly applying down collective is the most effective way to stop dynamic rollover from developing."
The report suggests that even momentary distractions during helicopter landings can be dangerous.
"Landing a helicopter is a critical phase of flight when circumstances can change rapidly," the report said. "For this reason, any distraction during landing can contribute to an upset unless a prompt intervention is initiated. Many pilots now carry Portable Electronic Devices (PEDs) such as mobile phones, tablets, GPS units in the cockpit; all of which may provide useful functions, but are also a potential source of distraction."