Helicopter Accidents - What were they thinking?

What were/are they thinking? First 3/4 of 2015

I decided to to review Helicopter Accidents for the early part of 2015. As with my past aviation accident research, I found that pilots have not discovered any new reasons or methods to crash aircraft; they just keep doing the same thing over and over refusing to learn from previous aviation accident history. I also discovered that the top four categories of helicopter accidents remain the same: Inexperienced pilots doing stupid stuff, Flight Training, Agriculture and Public Service. Helicopter EMS accidents were minimal compared to all other categories though they still make the list of common operational categories involved in accidents.

Inexperienced Pilots doing stupid stuff:

I found that the biggest cause of accidents overall regardless of category of operations were pilots simply exceeding their capabilities, they just didn't know their own limitations or more likely, they were willing to test themselves. Of course the largest number were extremely low time pilots just being stupid, sometimes with inexperienced Flight Instructors on board permitting those actions.

Not all accidents involved low time pilots. For example, a mid air in West Palm Beach, FL involving two aircraft with four pilots on board inluding a DPE claiming over 33,000 flight hours experience in one aircraft and a Flight Instructor in the other, all of whom managed to not see the other aircraft. What is more important than the not seeing part, is simply not being aware that they were in the immediate vacinity despite that fact that both aircraft had been announcing their locations in the traffic pattern for the most part. With regard to this accident, both aircraft were flying opposite patterns to the same runway. Part of the responsiblity of this accident falls on the tower as well as operators for not establishing better practices at a busy flight training airport.

Experience isn't necessarily everything:

It is important to note that experience isn't everything, but it is a major factor. You will find that there are pilots who have more of "what it takes" than others by nature. These pilots are very conscientious and think events and risks through very thoroughly all the time, not just when someone is watching. These pilots could have less experience and accomplish more by their nature, and a good operator will be able to recognize and pick out these individuals. Not all operators are willing to compensate these individuals to retain them even when they clearly know who they are, like the heavy operators and most corporate operations do. Most of the light operators like the ride hoppers, News and HEMS don't take into consideration the safe history or reputation of a particular pilot and adjust compensation accordingly.

Flight Training:

Flight Training accidents were frequent with many involving practice autorotations. Many accidents occured at off airport landing locations also many of which involved low altitude flight over poor landing locations. When you combine low time flight instructors with student pilots, it is not uncommon to end up with poor decisions. In my opionion, risky maneuvers are introduced to students to early without significant margin for safety.


Agricultural accidents were very frequent, most involved aerial application flights though there were a number of animal mustering or counting flights all at low altitude that ended badly. The biggest problem with the majority of the agricultural accidents were that the biggest factor seemed to be that the pilots simply didn't fully consider all of the safety factors concerning these flights. They just got in the cockpits and flew the aircraft straight to the scene of the crash. Their greatest considerations to the safety of the flight came after the crash, if they were lucky enough to survive.

Public Service:

Public Service continues to be a frequent participant in the high accident rate categories. As with flight training accidents, Public Service accidents involve a lot of poor decision making with over-confident pilots. What really sets Public Service accidents apart from the rest of the high risk operations is the value of the aircraft involved. Only public service operations can afford to crash the really expensive helicopters at a high rate, and that they do it often. There is an arrogance factor that comes into play with Public Service operations which is probably the largest contributing factor in all of their accidents. Public service also utilizes a high number of low-time pilots trained internally. Another issue with Public Service operations is the fact that they often receive favoritism on their checkrides often not required to perform maneuvers to the same standard as other pilots are if they are required to perform the maneuvers at all.

Fuel exhaustion occurred much more often than I would have expected regardless of operational category, and it was not limited to light helicopters, one pilot even managed to forget how much fuel he had in the Bell 412 he was flying, and that aircraft was completely destroyed as a result. In another case, a pilot ran his Bell 47 out of fuel and crashed it.

Wire strikes were frequent as they always have been. Pilots are willing to fly at low altitudes for sport without much thought about the wire risks. Wire strikes as a result of off-airport landings were also contributive to this category.

The missing categories:

There are however categories of operations that are very rare on the accident reports. These are the heavy operators like Erickson. This has proven true for the last 20-years that I have been doing extensive accident research, and despite the fact that they rarely have an accident, they have shown more improvement than any other category of operations just like the large Part 121 fixed wing operations. For example, I haven't seen the first accident from one of these operators in more than a year. What differentiates these operations? There are two significant factors; first, the operators refuse to accept that any frequency of accidents are acceptable, and secondly, they are willing to pay for experienced and conscientious pilots because they are not willing to risk their high value equipment and reputations. Unlike their HEMS counterparts where the acceptance of a high accident rate is common, and where they simply won't pay for experienced and conscientious pilots because they can easily afford the high accident rate since their cost of loss is low relative to their operational income and where the consequential greed causes them to ignor the accident reputation of the industry resulting in special FAA regulations.

What I noticed most of all over the last 20-years of my accident research is that pilots in the common operational categories of accidents refuse to learn from the mistakes of others always dupicating previous accidents over-and-over to the tee. END. Jump to Top