When helicopter accidents occur, more often than not there life-threatening injuries and fatalities. One of the most recent helicopter crashes in the US took place in May of 2014. On that day, a news helicopter with two people abroad crashed in central Seattle, WA at the foot of the iconic landmark the Space Needle upon take-off. Sadly, both people died.
The United States Helicopter Safety Team (www.USHST.org) gathered U.S. civil helicopter accident data for a 10-year period from 2004 to 2013. That organization found that more helicopter accidents happen when the weather is warm in most of the United States as that is when the most helicopters take flight. The month of July averaged 20 accidents during the last decade and that month averages three to four fatal helicopter accidents every year, making it the deadliest month for helicopter operations.
In a US safety trend study conducted by Helicopter Association International, it reported that there were 153 civil helicopter accidents in 2012. Of those, there were 34 fatalities and 26 serious injuries reported. When a helicopter crash takes place, crash investigators must determine how and why the accident happened as these are key to finding the cause, parties responsible and all the factors which are to blame for the crash.
Helicopters are typically used in dangerous situations where airplanes are unable to fly such as taking crews to and from ocean-based oil rigs, hovering in precarious rescue situations and flying low near obstacles like electrical wires and buildings. All of these situations put helicopters, their passengers and people on the ground at risk. This is why helicopter pilots are required to be very well-trained as they often encounter extremely dangerous situations.
Helicopter crashes can be caused by a number of things including:
Pilot error – Errors made by pilots are among the most common causes of helicopter crashes.There are many ways a pilot can cause a helicopter crash. Failure on the part of the pilot to operate the aircraft in accordance with it’s operational limitations can end in disaster. Operating a helicopter in unsafe environmental conditions can easily lead to a crash as can failing to properly plan the flight.
Defective parts – Because helicopters are complex, sophisticated aircraft, they consist of all types of partsand components such as drive shafts, gears, rotors, electronics, flight controllers and landing gear – all of which must function properly. This equipment must be designed and manufactured with precision. When a piece of equipment is defective in some way, it can cause a malfunction to result in a crash. Even the most experienced pilot can easily lose control of a helicopter due to a defective part of piece of equipment.
Inefficient maintenance or repair – If a helicopter is not properly maintained and repaired when needed, the risk is high of that aircraft being involved in an accident that severely injures or claims lives. Investigators from NTSB reported that inadequate maintenance was the likely cause of a deadly tour helicopter crash that took place in Nevada near the Hoover Dam in December of 2007. That crash killed the pilot and four tourists. The agency reported that a flight-control mechanism had become disconnected to render the helicopter uncontrollable. It was found that Sundance Helicopters, which operated the Eurocopter AS350, had improperly re-used a self-locking nut.
Weather conditions – Operating a helicopter in clear weather is challenging enough but when the weather turns foul, there is a much higher risk of a crash occurring. All types of inclement weather can cause a helicopter crash including heavy rainfall, strong gusting winds, hail and snow.
On-Ground hazards – Because helicopters are flown far closer to the ground than airplanes, they are at greater risk for striking on-ground hazards such as utility wires, radio control towers, tree tops and buildings. Many emergency helicopters which transport accident victims from accident sites crash because they run into on-ground hazards.
Excessive loads – All helicopters have a maximum weight capacity and if that maximum weight is exceeded, a helicopter can crash to the ground. NTSB reported that a helicopter that crashed into the East River in New York in 2012 during a sightseeing tour was carrying too much weight. That deadly crash killed three people who taking part in a birthday celebration. In NTSB’s report, it stated that the Bell 206 chopper had a capacity of 3,200 pounds and that the weight of the helicopter at takeoff was 3,228.
Air traffic controller error – The job of an air traffic controller is to ensure that aircraft approaching and taking off from airports are safe. When an error is made by an air traffic controller, airplanes and helicopters are put at high risk. Negligence on the part of air traffic controllers is often found to be the cause of collisions and other accidents involving aircraft at airports across the US. An air traffic controller who was making a personal phone call was found to be partially at fault for a 2009 fatal collision between a sightseeing helicopter and a small airplane over the Hudson River.
Pilot Inexperience – It has been found on numerous occasions that pilot inexperience was to blame for many helicopter crashes. Pilots with little experience and even student pilots have made fatal errors such as incorrectly setting ignition system switches during pre-flight checks, misjudging the distance between a chopper’s rotors and obstacles and making errors while landing on small helipads.
If you or someone you love has been injured or killed in a helicopter crash, it’s very important that you speak to a California personal injury attorney. Determining the cause of a helicopter crash that results in injuries or which claims lives requires the expertise of an experienced attorney. Your attorney will work to uncover the cause of the accident so that a liability claim can be brought against the responsible party or parties.
It is often the case that more than one factor was to blame for a helicopter crash. Whenever a helicopter crashes in the United States, NTSB will conduct an investigation into what happened. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) may also lend a hand, depending upon the nature of the crash. When you have an experienced attorney working for you, he or she will also conduct a thorough investigation to identify possible defendants who may be sued for what happened to you or your loved one.
Who Can Be Held Liable for Injuries Sustained in Helicopter Crashes
There are several parties which can be held accountable for injuries and wrongful deaths occurring due to helicopter crashes including:
- The pilot
- The owner of the helicopter
- The manufacturer and distributors of component parts
- Helicopter maintenance personnel
- Air traffic controllers
- Helicopter tour operators
Depending upon the circumstances surrounding the accident, there may be others that are responsible. In some cases, more than one party may be a defendant in a helicopter accident lawsuit. For example, a helicopter crash can be caused by a combination of improper maintenance and error on the part of the pilot – the responsible parties could include the pilot, his or her employer, the owner of the helicopter and the company in charge of maintaining the aircraft.
When innocent victims are injured in helicopter crashes, the injuries they suffer are often very serious. An injured victim often faces high medical costs, a loss of income and many other financial losses as they are trying to recover. He or she may also require long-term medical treatment and rehabilitation and may be in need mental health services to deal with the trauma caused by the helicopter accident.
It is important to obtain the assistance of an attorney as soon as possible as it takes time to properly prepare a helicopter crash lawsuit. There is much work to do which includes analyzing evidence, hiring experts, interviewing witnesses and more. Additionally, there are deadlines that must be met when filing a personal injury or wrongful death claim. If these deadlines are missed, the opportunity to seek compensation will no longer exist.