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Sacred Trust

Posted 5 years 32 days ago ago by Randy Mains

“Sacred trust,” is what your passenger exhibits when they get into your helicopter to go on a flight.  By their very actions they are telling you, “I am placing my life in your hands.”

Several clips on You Tube recently record the same tragic event that occurred in Brazil last December when a bride, filmed sitting in the back of a Robinson with her brother sitting next to her by a wedding photographer who is sitting in the front seat, are being flown to a wedding venue to surprise the bride’s unsuspecting future husband.  According to news reports, only six of the 300 guests at the wedding knew of her planned arrival by helicopter.  She wanted it to be a surprise for her future husband.  Tragically, they would never make it because the pilot elected to push the weather, entered IMC conditions and crashed killing all 5 of them.  (The photographer was six-months pregnant.)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=727SadehjdY

There is no shortage of clips on You Tube of helicopter pilots or their passengers recording themselves scud running in marginal weather or literally flying into IMC conditions on purpose seemingly just to show their audience they can do it.  To name a few clips I’ve seen that you can watch too: ‘Whiteout—What’s That?’, ‘Human Limitations—IMC Auto,’ and ‘Pilot Flies Helicopter into Clouds.’  

Watching those clips scares the heck out of me, mainly because what they are doing is extremely dangerous behavior but more importantly because perhaps more impressionable pilots may view them and say, “I can do that,” when they cannot as is evidenced in the wedding video where the pilot’s decision to enter IMC conditions tragically proved fatal to everyone on board.

I have a professional Face Book page dealing with helicopter safety topics more specifically, crew resource management issues that address the human factors that can cause pilots and air crew to make bad decisions.  Recognizing those hazardous attitudes in themselves is what CRM is all about and is the first vital step a pilot must take in breaking a possible link in an error chain forming. 

The pilot in the wedding clip no doubt put internal pressure on himself to deliver the bride at all cost.   ‘Press-on-itis along with ‘invulnerability’, a sense that an accident cannot happen to him, are two of the 9 hazardous attitudes taught in a CRM class. Sadly for all concerned this pilot did not recognize his hazardous attitudes, took a huge gamble—and lost.

I received a comment from a friend who follows me on Face Book that many of you may think is a valid point.  Here is what he said followed by my response.
“Don't know about you, Randy, but I believe flaunting a tragic film like this is far from being in the public interest.  Of course it will get out and be exploited voyeuristically by the media for sensationalism, but I'd like to believe our industry could keep its use professional and avoid unnecessarily showing the more tragic parts which prove nothing and have to be exceedingly painful to those close to the victims.”

Here is my response:  

“I certainly understand your concern. It is my feeling, however, that this clip serves a valuable purpose which is to act like an emotional heart attack to pilots and air crew who feel it's OK to press on in similar circumstances. It is my wish that pilots carry this image and that the tragedy and visuals will stick with them if they ever encounter similar weather conditions and feel pressured to continue no matter what the reason. There are way too many instances where pilots push the weather and do not call it quits early in the game where they should turn around, or land, or go IFR if qualified, current and proficient and the ship they are flying is certified to do so.

“There are clips on You Tube showing pilots pushing the weather going IMC or nearly so in a non-IFR certified aircraft and they get away with it. This wedding clip shows, in the most dramatic fashion imaginable, what happens when a pilot doesn't get away with it. 

What if the victims of this crash could speak, what would they tell other pilots out there? I imagine it would be something like this:

"When we get in to your helicopter we are in effect giving you our sacred trust essentially saying we are entrusting you with our lives. We are saying we trust your judgment, we trust you have the skill and sound decision-making to ensure that you will deliver us safely to our loved ones. Taking risks, no matter what pressure you perceive to get us to our destination, even on our wedding day, is foolish and doing so can have consequences too awful to imagine. So, please we beg of you, do not do it."

I am quite certain that would be their joint message to all helicopter pilots out there.  So please keep that thought in mind when your passengers put their lives in your competent hands.

Randy Mains is an author, public speaker, and a CRM/AMRM consultant who works in the helicopter industry after a long career of aviation adventure. He currently serves as chief CRM/AMRM instructor for Oregon Aero. He may be contacted at [email protected].