Jim Morris, former RAF pilot and Head of Aviation at national law firm Ashfords, urges the prompt publication of interim reports and the final accident report so that the safety of light helicopter passenger flights can be improved as quickly as possible.
On Saturday 10 February 2018, a Eurocopter EC130 helicopter operated by Papillon Airways crashed into the Grand Canyon during a sight-seeing flight, sadly killing three of the six British tourists on board. The three surviving tourists and the pilot suffered very serious injuries. Due to the adverse weather conditions that followed the accident the surviving passengers and the pilot were not rescued until the early hours of Sunday morning. Tragically two of the rescued passengers, a newly-wed couple on honeymoon, died from their injuries in hospital weeks after the crash.
Jim Morris has extensive experience of representing the victims of helicopter accidents involving Airbus/ Eurocopter helicopters, including the Eurocopter EC135 that crashed onto the Clutha Pub in Glasgow in 2013, the Eurocopter AS 332L2 that crashed on approach to Shetland in 2013 and the Eurocopter EC225 that ditched into the North Sea due to a gearbox problem in 2012.
Jim Commented: "This is a shocking and avoidable tragedy requiring urgent answers. Factors that the investigators will focus on will include the pilot's actions, the weather conditions and whether there was any technical problem with the helicopter. Clearly, the quicker the answers can be determined the quicker the operators and aviation authorities can learn lessons and implement the necessary measures to improve flight safety."
"From the NTSB preliminary report the helicopter appears to have suffered a dramatic loss of control on the final approach to land then burst into flames when it impacted with the ground. It is obviously crucial to determine exactly what caused this so the available evidence will be key. The pilot has fortunately survived and if he can provide an accurate recollection of the events this will be crucial evidence for the investigators. If the pilot is not able to provide accurate evidence, the investigation could become far more challenging as it is often the case that light helicopters such as the Eurocopter EC130 are not fitted with Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) black box equipment. If this equipment was not installed on the Papillon helicopter, crucial real time evidence on the systems and pilot actions during the accident sequence will not be available to the accident investigators, meaning that identifying the causes of the accident could be much more difficult, and potentially making it take much longer to complete the investigation."
"In the Eurocopter EC135 helicopter crash in Glasgow in 2013, the fact that black box equipment was not fitted was a serious issue for the investigation, which meant that it was almost two years before the final accident report was published and the investigation could not determine the full chain of events that were relevant to the accident."
"In addition to the cause of the loss of control, the investigators should look at the survivability elements of the crash and whether improvements should be made to reduce the chances of post impact fire. As three passengers and the pilot were able to escape the wreckage, the impact with the ground was survivable. However, the post impact fire is likely to have played a major role in relation to survivors being able to escape/ be rescued from the wreckage and their chances of survival."
"For many years there have been crash resistant fuel systems that can be fitted to helicopters. However, it is reported that only a small percentage of helicopters in the US are fitted with this safer fuel system. It is not known if the accident helicopter was fitted with the crash resistant fuel system but it has been reported that the Papillon Airways has now decided to retrofit its fleet of helicopters with a more crash resistant fuel system. This is an important enhancement to the safety of helicopters and it is to be hoped that other operators will follow suit."
"If the accident helicopter did not have this modification, a key issue is whether more of the occupants would have escaped the wreckage and survived if the modified fuel system had been fitted. Clearly this could be a crucial issue for the investigations and whether such crash resistant fuel systems should be made mandatory for all commercial passenger carrying helicopters in the US."
Jim Morris has been interviewed by Eamonn Holmes on talkRADIO following the Grand Canyon crash - to listen to the interview please click here (16:22 hours on the 16:30 - 17:00 slot).