Posted 2 years 328 days ago ago by Randy Mains
“Sacred trust.” That is what your passengers give you every time they get into your helicopter to go on a flight. By their very actions they are saying to you, “I am literally placing my life in your hands.”
When Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven other people were killed in a helicopter crash on the morning of January 26th in foggy conditions near the community of Calabasis I was in Anaheim, California, attending HAI Heli Expo as a speaker in the Rotorcraft Safety Challenge. The site of the crash was only 55 miles by road from the conference center. As you can imagine, along with the public outcry created by such a high-profile helicopter crash, it created quite a buzz among the conference attendees. I was asked by friends in person, in emails, and on social media what my opinion was on the cause of the crash. I told them, “Let's wait until we hear what the NTSB has to say.” The preliminary NTSB report is now out and it paints a troubling picture.
While attending a banquet that night at the conference, I spoke with Matt Zuccaro, the outgoing president of the HAI (Helicopter Association International). He told me that when he turned on the news that morning and learned of the crash he went absolutely livid.
I understood why he was so personally angry. Several years ago he told the industry he was sick and tired of reading accident report after accident report of helicopter crashes where, had the pilot just landed (after all you’re flying a helicopter) and had not pushed deteriorating weather, lives would be spared. He came up with the two phrases that has spread industry-wide:, "Land the Ddamn Hhelicopter" and “Land and Live,” that have made it internationally on to posters, T-sShirts, coffee mugs, pens, etc. In our discussion, Matt told me that he has a stack of emails from pilots thanking him because they heeded his words and lived to tell about it.
After studying the reports of the Kobe Bryant crash it appears the weather was a significant factor. It is easy to discern that if the pilot had not elected to press on in deteriorating weather, had he called it quits and just landed before he felt he needed to climb in IMC to try to get on top, everyone would be alive today.
According to the NTSB report the pilot was very experienced, which makes the crash all the more puzzling. He’d been with the company for ten 10 years and held ratings for helicopter and instrument helicopter, as well as instrument flight instructor. He had amassed 8,200 hours of flight experience. In hisHis most recent flight review, including proficiency training in inadvertent entry into instrument meteorological conditions (IIMC) and unusual attitude recovery, the pilot received satisfactory grades.
Instrument flying is the most perishable skill there is. Flying into the clouds when, by law, you are supposed to remain visual, is a phenomenon that has killed scores of experienced AND inexperienced and experienced pilots, getting in over their head due to internal or external pressures to accomplish the task instead of calling it quits in a timely fashion and willing to accept the consequences—no matter what.
Similar to Matt Zuccaro’s ‘Land and Live’ campaign, I have been trying through my articles to offer tips and anecdotes to my readers in hopes that when faced with a major decision, they might recall something I have written causing them to act in a way to break a link in an error chain and bring everyone home safely. Doing so honors that ‘sacred trust’ your passengers give you; by implication; they say, “I trust you with my life’.
I reviewed past articles I have written over the years and have listed the ones I feel perhaps COULD could have had relevance in this latest crash had the pilot read them, remembered them, and acted on them. You can access these articles on the Justhelicopters.com website. They usually begin on page ten 10 or eleven 11 in each issue. Just click on “MAGAZINE” and scroll down.
Sept 2012 “The Power of Crew Resource Management”
Nov 2012 “Enroute Decision Point”
Feb 2013 “Lessons Learned in the Flight Simulator”
Aug 2013 “CRM the Last Line of Defense”
Sep 2013 “This is Stupid”
Dec 2013 “Nine Hazardous Attitudes”
Jan 2014 “Four4 mental tools to keep you alive”
Feb 2014 “Qualities of a Professional Operator”
Feb 2012 “CRM Tips for the Single Pilot”
Mar 2015 “The Wrong Stuff my near fatal IIMC event as a HAA pilot.”
Jan/Feb 2016 “Risk Resource Management”
Jul/Aug 2017 “Are you a good role model?”
Sep/Oct “Becoming a good role model” (Email from a fan where he went IMC.) Becoming a good role model Email from a fan where he went IMC.
Nov/Dec “Integrity your Biggest Asset”
May/Jun 2018 “You are Safety’s Gatekeeper!”
Mar/Apr 2019 “Just Say NO!”
Jan/Feb 2020 “A Case Study NTSB report—Iowa Crash human factors”.
A bell does occasionally ring when my words are heeded, something that brings me great joy. I received the following email after the January 2019 air medical crash in Iowa where three people lost their lives. It was from a person who had remembered my words of caution and in the moment, acted on them, and wrote to tell me they were very happy they did. Here is what they had to say:
Randy, I wanted to take a moment and tell you thank you, thank you Thank You! for your class. We recently declined a flight here in Ohio due to unsafe weather conditions then later we saw our competitor accepting that flight and the result was the Survival Flight crash that killed the pilot and two flight nurses.
I will always remember taking your class with your crazy antenna, showing vigilance ready to identify, then break a link in an error chain forming, and thinking, who is this guy? He’s got my attention now! I remember you talking about pressures and being actively smart. So I wanted to thank you, I hope you realize just how important your seminars are to all pilots young and old.
The high-profile Kobe Bryant crash and the hoopla it created caused me to recall a passage I read several years ago that seems apropos in this instance:.
“Whenever we talk about a pilot who has been killed in a flying accident, we should all keep one thing in mind. They called upon the sum of all their knowledge and made a judgment. They believed in it so strongly that they knowingly bet their life on it. That their judgment was faulty is a tragedy, not stupidity. Every instructor, supervisor, and contemporary who ever spoke to them had an opportunity to influence his judgment, so a little bit of all of us goes with every pilot we lose.”
Matt Zuccaro has done his part. I’m doing my part. The question is: Aare you listening?
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].