Spate of Helicopter Crashes Signals Need for ‘Culture Change’

Deadly accidents trigger concern.

Helicopter Crash

Helicopter Crash

The International Helicopter Safety Team (IHST), a government-industry cooperative effort to cut the helicopter accident rate by 80 percent by 2016, is calling for an immediate “culture change” to stem a problem that appears to be growing worse instead of better.

The IHST issued its warning after four deadly helicopter crashes occurred this month in the span of a week. From Oct. 10 to Oct 17, the U.S. helicopter community experienced the spate of accidents, each of which started out as “routine” general aviation/private flights, but ended with tragic results. Here is a rundown of what we know about each:

On Oct. 10, a helicopter carrying three businessmen returning from a golf outing crashed into a wooded area in northeastern Pennsylvania as it attempted to land in bad weather. Two people were killed.

On the same day, Oct. 10, a low-flying helicopter struck a guy-wire supporting a radio tower near Crowley, Louisiana, killing the pilot.

On Oct. 12, a helicopter crashed during an evening flight in a wooded area near Fredericksburg, Texas, killing all three onboard.

On Oct. 17, a helicopter went down and caught fire in woods in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, after taking off in the early morning, killing the pilot.

“Although each of these accidents must be fully investigated before a probable cause is determined, their circumstances reflect a need for the private helicopter pilot and helicopter community to take a critical look at its risk mitigation efforts and safety practices,” the IHST wrote in its safety alert. “Seven people will not be coming home to their families, but this fact is not the result of them taking on a perilous task. Despite repeated TV and newspaper reports to the contrary, treacherous missions are not at the root of a stubbornly persistent helicopter accident rate and helicopter fatalities.”

The group says risk assessment of night flying, of weather, of fatigue, and stress require a "refocus" by helicopter pilots and operators, especially during the so-called ordinary flights. "When stepping into a helicopter, every passenger and every pilot should think about the simple risks identified in the flight and how the risks will be mitigated to an acceptable level," the IHST said.

“We are learning a grim lesson,” the group concluded. “Many pilots are not evaluating the risk when they feel it is a standard, low-risk flight and the consequences of this mindset are tragic.”