Compassionate Attorneys Fighting for the Interests of Helicopter Crash Victims and Their Families
The demand for helicopter travel has increased dramatically and shows no signs of slowing down. These fast and nimble aircraft enable tourists to access remote areas, as well as allowing companies to transport offshore employees, charter operators to provide a higher-end flying experience, healthcare organizations to transport patients to facilities in a faster timeframe and military and government agencies to conduct surveillance, respond in medical emergencies, search and rescue, and firefighting, among other things. Commuters can now even use a helicopter to avoid gridlocked roads.
Unfortunately, helicopters crash about 35% more often than other types of aircraft, and the fatal helicopter accident rate is on the rise. Survivors of these tragic crashes are often left with life-altering injuries. Victims of these accidents and their families can rely on the helicopter accident lawyers at Slack Davis Sanger, including Ladd Sanger and Mike Slack, pictured here, to secure the verdict or settlement they deserve as they begin on the road to recovery. With licensed pilots and a former NASA aerospace engineer on our team, we have a deep understanding of how these complex aircraft work and how human error and negligence can play a part in these devastating accidents.
Our legal team has the resources, insight, and drive to pursue every possible avenue to obtain justice for our clients and their families. Our helicopter crash attorneys can evaluate your case to determine the best strategy for a successful outcome, whether the incident involved an air ambulance or medical helicopter, an offshore helicopter, a helicopter tour, or another type of aviation accident.
Types of Helicopter Accidents
Travelers may choose to fly in a helicopter for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get a different perspective on a popular tourist destination or as an alternative to the modern hassle of commercial flying. Sadly, statistics show that flights in smaller types of aircraft more commonly end in disaster.
At an increasing number of international locations, travelers can choose to see the world’s natural wonders up close from the seat of a helicopter. The Grand Canyon and Hawaii are two popular destinations for helicopter tours, although these types of experiences are being offered at a growing list of other locations. Tour operators tend to hire hobbyist pilots who are often forced to fly in sometimes challenging conditions and through mountainous terrain, making accidents on these flights more common. The situation can become even more perilous when the weather changes dramatically while a helicopter is in flight, as can often be the case on the Hawaiian Islands.
While there is an appeal to flying in a charter or personal helicopter, these types of flights are found to be extremely dangerous. In a study done by the United States Helicopter Safety Team (USHST), it was found that although personal and private helicopter use only accounts for 3% of helicopter flight hours, these types of flights make up 26% of all fatal helicopter accidents.
The dangers of flying in a charter helicopter came to the nation’s attention when NBA superstar, Kobe Bryant, along with 8 others perished in a devastating helicopter accident. Although the investigation is still ongoing, some aviation experts believe that the pilot experienced spatial disorientation at the time of the crash. Spatial disorientation occurs when a pilot flying in low visibility cannot see a horizon and their senses conflict with the reality of their position. On the day of the crash, the weather had been clear prior to taking off, but a thick layer of fog rolled in and is thought to have impaired the pilot’s ability to fly the helicopter. Additionally, the aircraft did not have a terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS), which signals when the aircraft is in danger of hitting the ground. Although the National Transportation Safety Board has pushed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to make this system mandatory in all helicopters, the FAA has only made this system a requirement for air ambulances.
Air Ambulance and Medical Helicopter Crashes
Air ambulances and medical helicopters are often a necessity to pick up patients when no other mode of transportation can reach individuals in crisis. When seconds matter, medical helicopters can sometimes save lives by saving a significant amount of time when compared to ground ambulances. These types of emergency medical services are often utilized at night or during bad weather, however, which can make flying a helicopter even more hazardous.
In a medical emergency, pilots may feel extreme pressure to bring patients to a medical center by an air ambulance, medical helicopter, or medical transport plane as quickly as possible. An already devastating situation can quickly turn tragic if one of these aircraft experiences a crash or accident. In these cases, not only can patients suffer further injury or even death, but medical flight crew members and flight nurses can also experience severe injuries or fatalities.
The inherent risks of these flights have led federal agencies to study these crashes and recommend changes to improve passenger safety. During a 10-year period starting in 1993, these accidents claimed the lives of 72 passengers and left 64 more with injuries, some of which were significant. Despite a high number of fatalities and life-changing injuries to victims, additional requirements had not been implemented.
Then, in 2008, the job of EMS helicopter pilot was ranked as the most dangerous profession in America and was escalated to a public health crisis. During this year, there were 12 air ambulance helicopter crashes, which claimed the lives of 29 crew members and patients.
Ladd Sanger, a Partner at Slack Davis Sanger, is a licensed helicopter pilot with deep knowledge of helicopters and other types of aircraft. He is part of our team of helicopter accident attorneys, who present and write regularly on the topic of air medical safety, and are up to date on the latest rules and regulations.
Offshore Helicopter Crashes and Accidents
With more than 4,000 oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico alone, oil and gas companies increasingly use helicopters to transport workers and equipment. While working on an oil rig already comes with its fair share of dangers, arriving on a job site by helicopter creates additional hazards. Since 2000, over 40 helicopters have crashed into the Gulf of Mexico while transporting workers to these offshore oil rigs. More specifically, from 2003 to 2010, offshore helicopter crashes resulted in 49 fatalities. Because these waters are governed by an elaborate set of maritime laws, only firms with attorneys knowledgeable in these types of accidents can position victims and their families for a favorable settlement after what could have been an otherwise avoidable accident.
These cases usually become even more complex, as most crashes occur over water and locating and salvaging the helicopter for investigation and analysis can be difficult. The helicopter crash attorneys at Slack Davis Sanger can help fight for the compensation victims and their families deserve. Our aviation attorneys can bring you justice, starting what can be a long and involved process with a free consultation.
Dangers of Helicopter Travel
Flying in a helicopter puts passengers at greater risk of a catastrophic injury than boarding a commercial airplane. Helicopter occupants are more likely to obtain a serious injury or lose their lives for a variety of reasons, including:
- Helicopters take off and land more frequently than other types of aircraft, which is when most aviation accidents occur.
- These types of aircraft are more vulnerable to bad weather.
- Less-stringent regulations mean that pilots may be less experienced than their airline counterparts, making it more challenging for them to handle problems in flight.
- Helicopters have more moving parts than planes, which means more components can break or malfunction.
- These types of rotorcraft are often used in high-pressure or otherwise challenging situations, such as over mountainous areas, at low altitudes, at night, during natural disasters, or over rough terrain.
While helicopters are necessary in some instances, such as in air ambulance emergencies or as transportation to get to work at an offshore oil rig, the grim statistics associated with this type of transportation can be alarming. The National Transportation Safety Board reported that from 2004 to 2014, there were 1,470 accidents involving helicopters used as air ambulances, for search and rescue missions, and for other commercial uses.
What is the Percentage of Helicopter Crashes That Are Fatal?
Although the rate at which helicopters crash has remained somewhat flat over recent years, the rate at which these aircraft crash is still too high, and tragically, more of these accidents have ended in fatalities. In 2016, there were 3.67 accidents per every 100,000 hours flown and in 2018 there were 3.62 accidents per every 100,000 hours flown. The number of fatal accidents increased from 0.54 fatal accidents for every 100,000 hours in 2016 to 0.72 fatal accidents per every 100,000 hours in 2018. The USHST attributes the increase in fatal accidents to more pilots conducting non-essential, low-altitude flights in which they encountered obstacles.
The helicopter crash statistics for 2019 continue to paint a grim picture. The accident rate rose to 4.17 accidents for every 100,000 hours flown, and .82 fatal accidents for every 100,000 hours flown. In 2019, there were 24 fatal helicopter accidents which resulted in 55 fatalities. These numbers tell us that the odds of dying in a helicopter crash are high.
Are Planes or Helicopters Safer?
We hear about the tragic consequences of commercial plane accidents in the news and ongoing investigations are reported about for months after the accident. In 2019, there were eight devastating commercial plane accidents which resulted in 257 fatalities. When looking at these numbers in comparison to how many hours of commercial flight there were during this year, the result was a rate of .18 fatal accidents for every one million hours flown. These statistics prove that flying in a helicopter is much more dangerous than taking a commercial flight.
The Role of Human Error
Helicopters can crash for a variety of reasons, including mechanical failures, poor maintenance, and faulty parts. The most common cause of these accidents, however, is pilot error.
Some of these lapses in judgment that can result in tragic consequences include:
- Flying in or into inclement weather when storms, ice, wind, fog, and other adverse conditions put passengers at increased risk
- Inadequate communication or misunderstandings with air traffic control
- Lack of attention at lower altitudes or in the dark, which can result in collisions in unfamiliar terrain
- Insufficient preflight planning and inspections to help prepare for any unplanned or unexpected conditions that take attention away from flying
- Fatigue that makes it more challenging to make split-second decisions that may be needed in emergency situations
- Fuel management decisions which are surprisingly common and can result in a helicopter running out of fuel
- Lack of familiarity with technological advances in the cockpit which are designed to improve aviation safety but can detract from situational awareness when something goes wrong in flight
If you or a family member has suffered from a personal injury or even wrongful death while flying by helicopter—whether because of pilot error or other factors—you can turn to the distinguished helicopter injury lawyers at Slack Davis Sanger to fight for your rights and for better safety regulations in the industry. While we know your life may be forever altered after a tragedy, we will do everything we can to lessen your financial hardships. Our team includes licensed pilots and a legal nurse consultant who understand the complexities of aviation law and will be able to handle the challenging parts of these cases while you and your family take steps to adjust to a new and different set of circumstances.
Helicopter Accident Injuries
Victims in crashes and other incidents involving helicopters often sustain significant injuries that forever change the rest of their lives, as well as surviving family members.
Some of the most common injuries from these accidents include:
- Blunt force trauma
- Fractures of the ribs, skull, facial bones, tibia, thorax, and pelvis
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Lung, liver, heart, aorta, and spleen injuries
- Internal injuries
- Burns and open wounds
In the most severe of these incidents, complications result in death.
Advocating for Improved Helicopter Passenger Safety Measures
While flying in a helicopter may always involve more risks than other forms of travel, certain steps would reduce the tragic injuries and loss of life that occur as a result of these accidents.
Slack Davis Sanger joins industry safety advocates in pushing for reforms, such as:
- More comprehensive pilot training and certification
- Increased requirements for helicopter maintenance
- Limits on flight crew time and duty periods
- Carrying extra fuel on board in case a pilot is unexpectedly diverted or delayed from reaching the final destination
- Expanding the scope of the preflight inspection checklist to spot any potential mechanical or equipment issues
- Researching the sedating impact of certain over-the-counter medications on pilots to reduce pilot error
- Restricting low-altitude flights that put passengers at unsafe risk levels
- An improved culture of safety and compliance