What are the Common Causes of Helicopter Accidents?
Updated: Mar 17
In the United States alone there is a helicopter crash almost every month. What is the main causes of helicopter accidents? This is what we found:
Pilot error is among the most frequently-cited causes in helicopter accident findings. It can include mistakes made by the pilot during takeoff, landing, or in-flight operations. Pilots can become fatigued, distracted, or make poor decisions that can lead to accidents .Errors include failing to operate the helicopter in the manner that it was designed or flying the helicopter in unsafe environmental or weather conditions. It is crucial that pilots understand the aircraft and carefully plan their flight to avoid these risky situations as much as possible.
Human error: In 2018, a helicopter crashed into the East River in New York City, killing five passengers. The accident was attributed to the pilot's failure to maintain proper altitude and airspeed, as well as his lack of awareness of his surroundings.
NTSB: Pilot Error Caused Deadly Helicopter Crash Into NYC River." NBC New York, 7 March 2019, https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/ntsb-pilot-error-caused-deadly-helicopter-crash-into-nyc-river/56946/.
Helicopters are complex machines with many moving parts including a main rotor, tail rotor, gearbox, flight controllers, landing gear and a drive shaft that runs the entire length of the chopper. These parts experience almost constant wear and tear, which increases the potential for malfunction. A single defectively designed or manufactured part may also result in a malfunction. In such cases, it is difficult even for an experienced pilot to maintain or regain control of the chopper and avoid crashing. . If any of these parts fail or malfunction, it can cause an accident. Common mechanical failures include engine failure, transmission failure, and rotor system failure.
Mechanical issues: In 2020, a helicopter crashed in Nepal, killing all seven people on board. The accident was attributed to a malfunctioning tail rotor, which caused the helicopter to spin out of control.
Seven killed as helicopter crashes in Nepal." BBC News, 27 February 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-51605009
According to investigators from the NTSB, improper or inadequate helicopter maintenance is one of the main causes of deadly helicopter accidents in the U.S. Helicopter companies and operators are responsible for reducing the risk of malfunctions through routine inspections and proper maintenance and servicing of these aircraft. Regular maintenance and inspections are critical to the safe operation of helicopters. If maintenance is not performed properly, or if there are issues with the maintenance schedule, it can lead to accidents.
Maintenance issues: In 2017, a helicopter crashed in New South Wales, Australia, killing the pilot and four passengers. The accident was attributed to a lack of proper maintenance, which led to the failure of the helicopter's main rotor.
"Helicopter crash: ATSB blames lack of maintenance for fatal NSW accident." ABC News, 5 June 2018, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-06-05/helicopter-crash-inquest-atsb-blames-lack-of-maintenance/9834484.
Helicopter accidents can occur due to adverse weather conditions, such as strong winds, heavy rain, or low visibility. Pilots must be able to navigate through these conditions safely and make informed decisions about whether or not to fly. Rain, strong winds, hail and snow are weather conditions that may cause helicopter crashes. Fog is extremely dangerous, because it hampers visibility. Pilots and helicopter operators have a responsibility to make sound decisions before taking the aircraft out in adverse weather.
Weather conditions: In 2019, a helicopter crashed into a mountain in California, killing all nine people on board. The accident was attributed to the pilot's decision to fly in foggy conditions, which reduced visibility and made it difficult to navigate.
"Kobe Bryant helicopter crash: What we know." BBC News, 28 January 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-51256756.
Helicopters fly at lower elevations, so they are at a greater risk of striking structures such as control towers, buildings, trees and utility wires. Emergency helicopters are especially susceptible to such accidents.
Helicopter pilots need hundreds of hours of experience in order to be able to operate these complex aircraft safely. However, many companies hire pilots who don’t have the necessary knowledge and experience, and therefore may also make serious errors, especially while landing in smaller and tighter spaces.
Other human factors such as miscommunication, inadequate training, poor decision-making, and inadequate crew resource management can also contribute to helicopter accidents.
Human factors: In 2015, a helicopter crashed in Argentina, killing 10 people. The accident was attributed to a combination of factors, including miscommunication between the pilot and ground crew, inadequate crew resource management, and poor decision-making by the pilot.
"Helicopter crash kills 10 in Argentina." CNN, 10 March 2015, https://www.cnn.com/2015/03/10/americas/argentina-helicopter-crash/index.html
It's important to note that helicopter accidents are often the result of a combination of factors rather than a single cause. Investigating authorities will typically examine all possible factors in order to determine the root cause of an accident.
Our best course of action is to implement safety training and engage in regular practice to effectively eliminate the problem.