Australia’s Transport Safety Bureau has issued a safety advisory notice to all helicopter operators conducting overwater operations. The notice advises the importance of frequent helicopter underwater escape training (HUET) for aircrew and regular passengers to increase survivability of an in-water accident.
The notice was issued as a result of the TSB's initial investigation into the fatal collision with water of an Airbus Helicopters EC135 on March 14. While one pilot survived, the other was unable to escape from the helicopter. Examination of the aircraft operator’s records revealed the deceased pilot, who was recently employed by the operator, had not undertaken a HUET course for nine years.
“Research of accidents into water has shown that occupants who survive the initial impact will likely have to make an in-water or underwater escape, as helicopters usually rapidly roll inverted post-impact,” the ATSB said. “The research has also shown that drowning is the primary cause of death following a helicopter accident into water.”
A HUET course is considered to provide individuals with familiarity with the crash environment and confidence in their ability to cope with emergency situations. The ATSB said that interviews with survivors from helicopter accidents requiring underwater escape frequently mention they considered that HUET had been very important in their survival. “Training provided reflex conditioning, a behavioral pattern to follow, reduced confusion, and reduced panic.”
Notwithstanding, the ATSB emphasized that the investigation is continuing and it is too soon to draw final conclusions.