Spatial disorientation is the likely reason the pilot of a privately owned Robinson R44 helicopter lost control of the aircraft and crashed near southern Quebec’s Saint-Ferdinand Aerodrome in August 2011, according to the accident report issued by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB). The private pilot and the three passengers aboard, all members of the pilot’s family, were killed in the nighttime accident.
The UK civil aviation authority (CAA) is recommending prevention and mitigation action to reduce the number of helicopter accidents in poor visibility. Proposed improvements include pilot guidance on whether to fly and better handling qualities. Together, controlled flight into terrain (CFIT), spatial disorientation and loss of control form the largest single cause of small-helicopter fatal accidents in the UK.
Gary Robb, an attorney with Robb & Robb of Kansas City, Mo., filed a wrongful death suit on behalf of the families of the deceased. It names Cessna Aircraft; Textron, Cessna’s parent company; Parker Hannifin; Sigma Tek; and Aeroflite, the maintenance provider. The defendants maintain that Randy Carnahan’s negligence led to the crash.
King Air 200, Strasburg, Colo., Jan. 27, 2001–At about 5:37 p.m. MST, King Air N81PF–owned by North Bay Charter and operated by Jet Express Services–crashed into rolling terrain near Strasburg. The twin turboprop departed from Jefferson County Airport (BJC) in Broomfield, Colo. at approximately 5:18 p.m. with two pilots and eight members and associated personnel of the Oklahoma State University basketball team.
Cessna 208B Caravan, Spanish Fort, Ala., Oct. 23, 2002–Despite speculation that a Mid-Atlantic Freight Caravan collided with another object (possibly a UAV), the NTSB determined that the cause of the crash was the 4,000-hour pilot’s spatial disorientation, which resulted in loss of control. Night IMC with variable cloud layers was a contributing factor.
At a public hearing yesterday, the NTSB singled out Part 91 operations in a special study on helicopter and fixed-wing EMS accidents. Between 1994 and 2004, the number of accidents doubled, with 83 since 1998. Main accident causes are CFIT, inadvertent operation into IMC and spatial disorientation or lack of situational awareness in night operations.
Eurocopter AS 350 B3, Pilar, N.M., Jan. 29, 2005–The NTSB blamed the accident on the pilot’s failure to maintain control and his improper use of night-vision goggles (NVGs). His spatial disorientation, self-induced pressure to return the helicopter to its home base, lack of experience in the use of NVGs, use of exterior lights on a dark night, under overcast skies and against snow-covered terrain, were listed as contributing factors.
In its January 10 final report on the fatal crash of a Cessna Caravan more than three years ago, the NTSB said there was “no evidence of an in-flight collision or breakup.” The Safety Board modified its factual report, which previously contained language that suggested the possibility of an in-flight collision, perhaps with a nearby FedEx DC-10, before it lost control and crashed on Oct. 23, 2002, killing the sole-occupant pilot.
At a public hearing last month, the NTSB singled out allegedly less safe Part 91 operations in a special study on helicopter and fixed-wing EMS accidents. EMS aircraft must operate under Part 135 when carrying patients, passengers and organs, but may fly under Part 91 when only authorized crewmembers are on board. Between 1994 and 2004, the number of EMS accidents doubled.
Eurocopter BO 105 CBS5, Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., Oct. 20, 2004–The NTSB blamed the helicopter accident on the pilot’s spatial disorientation and in-flight loss of control after encountering night IMC. A factor was the pilot’s decision to fly when IMC was forecast.