Helicopter Dangers: Insights into Blade Injuries & Crashes

Helicopter Dangers

Written by Aaron R. Winston
Last Updated: March 10, 2024 12:02pm CDT

Helicopter Dangers

Taking a moment to appreciate the beauty of our world from high above in a helicopter is truly a unique experience. The serene views, the loud hum of the helicopter rotor blades, and the feeling of floating above the earth provide memories that last a lifetime.

Yet, like all flying adventures, it’s essential to recognize and respect the complexities of aviation.

While most flying journeys end with cherished memories, the focus of some will be quite the opposite and bring lessons about the unpredictable nature of helicopter flight and potential crash events.

By understanding and respecting these intricacies, we deepen our appreciation for such moments and ensure a safer experience for all who choose to take to the skies.

Identifying the facts and statistics surrounding such events can be valuable, especially if you or someone you know has been affected by a helicopter crash.

This knowledge can assist you in the aftermath with navigating potential legal proceedings, advocating for enhanced safety measures, or simply making informed decisions in the future.

As they say, knowledge is power, which is what we hope to provide you with so you and your loved ones are better prepared to move forward in the days, months, and years following a helicopter accident.

To gain a better perspective of the facts about helicopter dangers, let’s examine some of the most recent statistics surrounding fatal helicopter crashes.

Table of Contents

Understanding the Dangers of Helicopter Accidents

Due to movies and TV (and real life), when we think about helicopter accidents, images of explosions, fatal crashes, and severe injuries come to mind.

The fact is that’s not so far off from reality, as last year alone saw 96 helicopter accidents across the U.S., with 17 resulting in fatalities. This figure underscores how real and present these dangers are.

A Substantially Damaged Helicopter Crashing

Gaining insights directly from crash victims gives us a unique perspective on what happens during such incidents.

The stories of their respective crash event, in tandem with the visible damage to crashed helicopters and the crash scene, offer invaluable information that can be used by authorities and aircraft makers to improve safety protocols and minimize the risk of future accidents.

For the victims themselves, helicopter and plane crash investigations serve another and more critical purpose in the years to follow.

The official reports can be used by the victims when filing lawsuits as a means to recover financially for the loss they suffered (you can schedule a free consultation with a helicopter injury lawyer).

Before we dive into discussing how the new aviation laws and regulations are put into place, let’s begin by reviewing the following:

  • Top causes of helicopter accidents
  • List of real-life fatal helicopter crash examples that have occurred in the United States and Europe over the past 15 years

So let’s get started.

The Most Common Factors Contributing to Helicopter Accidents

The elements that lead to a helicopter accident are diverse and often complex. From human error to mechanical failure, right down to weather conditions, every flight is a delicate balance of numerous factors.

1. Helicopter Pilot Error

Pilots play an integral role in the safe operation of helicopters. But they’re also human, which inherently means they are prone to making mistakes. According to the FAA’s Effective Helicopter Flying Handbook, pilot mistakes are the most common cause of helicopter crashes.

Types of Helicopter Crashes Caused By Pilot Error Infographic List: Takeoff errors, Landing errors, Loss of situational awareness, Preflight inspection mistakes, Unintended ground impact, Fuel exhaustion/starvation, Fuel contamination, Improper execution of emergency procedures.

Types of Helicopter Crash Pilot Errors:

Some of the most common forms of helicopter pilot errors include:

  • Takeoff errors
  • Landing errors
  • Loss of situational awareness
  • Preflight inspection mistakes
  • Unintended ground impact
  • Fuel exhaustion/starvation
  • Fuel contamination
  • Improper execution of emergency procedures

Pilots being fatigued or becoming overwhelmed by unforeseen circumstances can all be categorized under this factor of pilot error.

2. Technical Malfunctions and Engine Failure

Besides pilot errors, technical malfunctions have their fair share in causing mishaps.

A slight defect in a helicopter-manufactured component or an error in engine or aircraft maintenance can quickly escalate into life-threatening situations mid-air.

Wear and Tear On Helicopter Machinery

Helicopters consist of heavy materials and many moving components, subject to wear and tear through regular use, and may need to be repaired or replaced.

This is why routine checks and inspections are done. Maintenance personnel and ground crews look for signs of wear and tear that can impact the soundness of a helicopter’s construction and ability to fly safely.

What Is a Turboshaft Engine In a Helicopter?

A turboshaft engine is a variant of a jet engine, which is optimized to produce increased levels of shaft power as a means to move machinery. Turboshafts are most generally used in machinery that requires a powerful engine that is also compact and lightweight engine, such as helicopters.

A Helicopter Cockpit

What is the most common cause of helicopter rotor blade issues?

The Leading Cause of Rotor Blade Malfunction Is Erosion

The main rotor blades and tail rotors, both of which are crucial parts that give helicopters lift and directly affect their stability and control, can experience various wear and tear and erosion-related issues that make it difficult to operate and maneuver in the air and cause helicopter accidents.

Additionally, many helicopter accidents are caused by some form of malfunction:

  • Sudden aircraft electrical system failure
  • Turboshaft engines may experience performance issues because they operate at near maximum capacity almost constantly.

These technical failures, combined with other contributing factors such as weather conditions and operational issues, make helicopter operations challenging and hazardous. Hence, remaining watchful is essential to upholding a high level of safety.

Helicopter Rotor Blades

A safe flight needs balance, with threats from human error to technical malfunctions. Even the weather can tip this delicate equilibrium. Pilots must stay sharp because mistakes are costly.

Seemingly small mechanical issues like engine glitches or rotor wear and tear can also turn deadly fast.

That’s why it’s essential for us to maintain constant vigilance.

Case Studies on Notable Helicopter Accidents

Despite their usefulness in various operations like medical evacuation and external load transportation, helicopters are not immune to accidents.

It’s worth examining some incidents that have occurred over time to help us understand the real-world applications for the common causes of helicopter accidents.

Bond Offshore Helicopters Flight 85N – 2009

The North Sea in Europe has seen its share of helicopter crashes, many involving turboshaft helicopters utilized for offshore oil industry support.

One of the more recent and tragic helicopter accidents over the North Sea was on April 1, 2009, when a Bond Offshore Super Puma AS332L crashed into the sea while returning from a BP (British Petroleum) oil platform.

The accident killed all sixteen persons onboard (14 passengers and two crew).

The crash underwent investigations and multiple official government inquiries.

An official U.K. government inquiry in 2014 found that the Bond Offshore Helicopters Flight 85N was preventable. The company neglected to follow proper maintenance procedures, which caused the main rotor gearbox to fail and the subsequent fatal crash into the North Sea.

Bond Offshore Super Puma Helicopter Red
Image source Uploaded by Ronnie Peterson License: Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA 2.0) This image has been adapted and/or modified with a watermark and cropping.

Papillon Airways Grand Canyon Helicopter Crash – 2018

A Grand Canyon sightseeing helicopter tour ended tragically just before sunset on February 10, 2018, when an Airbus EC130 B4 (light utility helicopter) operated by Papillon Airways making an approach crashed into a ravine and became engulfed in flames.

The crash occurred near Quartermaster Canyon, a valley in the Hualapai Indian Reservation, and to the west of Grand Canyon National Park. Air tours are subject to fewer regulations in this part of the Grand Canyon.

The crash resulted in five of the seven helicopter occupants dying, with the pilot and one passenger as the only survivors. Both were severely injured.

The helicopter pilot, a man named Scott Booth, had injuries that required both his legs to be amputated.

Papillon Airways Helicopter Tours
Express Legal Funding is not affiliated with, connected to, or associated with Papillon Airways.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that a total loss of engine control from a high gust of wind was a significant factor in this 2018 Grand Canyon helicopter crash tragedy.

According to these findings, the “most significant factor” affecting the survival of those on board the helicopter was the post-crash fire.

The helicopter was “not equipped, nor was it required to be equipped, with a crash-resistant fuel system.”

New York City (NYC) Helicopter Crashes

How many helicopter crashes have there been in NYC? New York City is no stranger to such accidents; since 2004, there have been at least nine helicopter crashes leading to 15 fatalities (citation source).

East River Liberty Tours Helicopter Crash – 2018

One such New York helicopter crash was that of an open-door sightseeing tour, which involved a Eurocopter AS350 being operated by Liberty Helicopter, crashing into the cold water of the East River on March 11, 2018.

The crash resulted in all five passengers drowning. The NTSB determined that the crash was caused by a loss of engine power from one of the passengers inadvertently triggering the emergency fuel shutoff lever with their safety harness.

Since then, additional safety measures and precautions have been adopted.

Liberty Helicopter - New York City Helicopter Tours
Express Legal Funding is not affiliated with, connected to, or associated with Liberty Helicopters.

Bird Strike Helicopter Accidents

In some cases, the precipitating event that causes a helicopter to crash is a bird strike, which can lead to engine failure.

Helicopter Crash Near Morgan City, Louisiana – 2009

A prime example is a Sikorsky S-76C++ helicopter operated by PHI, Inc. that collided with a bird while en route to an oil field in 2009, which crashed into marshy terrain near Morgan City, Louisiana.

The report points out that, due to this contact with a bird mid-flight, the helicopter faced substantial damage and crashed into the marshy terrain below.

The next section of this article focuses on what we can do to reduce the impact of the long list of potential aviation hazards and what the government can do to address these risks.

A Crashed Helicopter

Helicopter Safety Regulations and Guidelines

It is clear that helicopters aren’t accident-proof, and a litany of issues can cause crashes.

That is why specialized government agencies create laws and regulations for pilots and aircraft manufacturers to follow in response to aviation and helicopter dangers and to keep people in the air and on the ground safe.

The safety of helicopter operations hinges on strict adherence to regulations and guidelines.

The Federal Flight Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are primary forces that often work in tandem with the greater aviation industry to better guarantee flight safety by implementing regulations and guidelines.

1. The Federal Aviation Administration

What does the FAA do? The FAA works tirelessly towards enhancing aviation administration practices in response to helicopter accident records and investigations.

The agency’s safety mission of minimizing aircraft (planes, helicopters, etc.) accidents caused by human error and mechanical failures is clear-cut.

What Is the Mission of the FAA?

The FAA states its mission as the following:

The mission of the FAA is to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world.

As part of their efforts, FAA employees oversee pilot training programs for commercial aircraft and smaller civil fleet helicopters.

A key finding from data collected by federal agencies has shown that there has been a drop in the fatal crash rate. More specifically, there has been a significant reduction in main rotor blade injury rates in helicopters over the last decade compared to any previous period.

These improved safety stats can be attributed to the significant advancements in helicopter design and maintenance protocol improvements, particularly those concerning rotor blades.

The Federal Aviation Administration
Image source Uploaded by Tony Webster License: Attribution (CC BY 2.0) This image has been adapted and/or modified with a watermark.

What Does the FAA Regulate?

Some of the areas and methods the FAA maintains rigorous standards for helicopters and planes include:

Areas of FAA Oversight
  • Air traffic controllers
  • Airports
  • Certifying flight instructors and pilot training programs.
  • Having basic eligibility requirements for helicopter pilot licenses
  • Maintaining a Pilot Records Database (PRD)
  • Limiting commercial airline pilot flight hours to 36 flight hours in a week, 100 hours in a month (28 days), and 1000 in a year.
  • Requiring airports to create and adopt external safety management systems (i.e., rules about performing comprehensive checks on fixed-wing aircraft and turboshaft helicopters before take-off)

Maintaining a good safety record isn’t just about air carriers avoiding fatalities.

A Helicopter Pilot

It’s also about aviation companies and pilots taking precautions and preventative measures to reduce instances of aircraft sustaining damage midflight (i.e., installing hardware to protect from bird strikes).

Additionally, the FAA has rules requiring airline carriers to provide aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) while operating.

FAA Safety Standards Protect Against Helicopter Dangers

No matter the mission or assignment, whether it be rescue, medical transport, news, police, or everyday airport operations, the FAA’s safety standards are crucial to ensuring pilots, helicopter crew members, and the passengers they serve make it to their destinations safely.

So remember, next time you hear that familiar “chuff, chuff, chuff” of the whirring helicopter blades overhead, know that behind every flight is a network of hard-working professionals at the FAA dedicated to keeping us all safer up in the sky (and bystanders on the ground).

2. The National Transportation Safety Board

What does the NTSB do? Like with other transportation and aviation industries, helicopter operations must handle dynamic situations and unpredictable environments.

This is why the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is another government agency that works to enhance safety standards and reduce the occurrence of tragic aviation accidents.

The National Transport Safety Board
Image source Uploaded by NTSB License: PDM 1.0 Deed

NTSB Investigators Make Incident Reports For Helicopter Crashes

The NTSB accomplishes this for helicopter crashes by examining evidence surrounding the incident, such as the wreckage and witness statements, and then creating an official report that includes insights and recommendations, such as:

  • Details about what could have been done to prevent the particular accident
  • What can be done in the future to mitigate the likelihood of a crash
  • What can be done to prevent the risk of serious injuries or fatalities in the event of an accident

What Is the Mission of the NTSB?

In the NTSB’s own words about its mission:

​​​​​​​​The National Transportation Safety Board is an independent federal agency charged by Congress with investigating every civil aviation accident in the United States and significant events in the other modes of transportation.

The NTSB also makes general recommendations, such as that the FAA should create criteria for regular pilot training as a critical aspect of ensuring safe flights.

Just like any other profession, continual learning plays an essential role in maintaining competence levels among pilots.

Besides that, they also stress having adequate preflight preparations.

Air traffic controllers checking weather conditions before a flight and updating pilots about possible turbulence can prevent many unnecessary risks associated with flying under adverse weather situations.

Apart from adhering strictly to regulations set by authorities such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), cultivating a culture of safety within aviation companies helps improve their overall safety record.

Reviewing FAA Guidelines

That involves everyone from top management to the maintenance crew understanding their roles in preserving lives through stringent adherence to operational guidelines.

Ultimately, the government can’t make the skies safer and implement aviation standards alone. This effort depends on collaboration between stakeholders and government regulators like the FAA and NTSB investigators.

3. Advances in Helicopter Safety Technologies

One primary example of this unified effort to save lives can happen before a plane or helicopter part is mass-produced.

Commercial aircraft manufacturers coordinating with regulatory bodies like the FAA during the design process continues to be a factor in lessening the risk of fatal aviation accidents.

With advancements in technology comes great potential for reducing accident rates further, with autopilot being a prime example.

Do Helicopters Have Autopilot?

Yes, helicopters have autopilot and advanced flight directors installed. Autopilot functionality and other safety features, such as in the following list, have helped to reduce helicopter accidents that were the result of human error:

  • Collision avoidance system
  • Better navigation tools
  • Flight data recorders (similar to black boxes in cars)

As per multiple NTSB accident reports, there has been a noticeable decrease in fatal helicopter accidents over the past decade thanks to such technologies.

A Helicopter in the Air

Preventing Helicopter Accidents Through Best Practices

Following guidelines is especially crucial given the high fatality rates associated with helicopter accidents. Below, we examine some of the most effective strategies helicopter operators and the pilots they employ can take to reduce these safety risks.

1. Maintenance and Inspection Procedures

Regular maintenance and inspection are crucial factors in preventing accidents. From checking rotor blades for any signs of wear or damage to ensuring that all parts function correctly, the vital nature of this step cannot be overstated.

Fatal accidents often result from overlooked flaws, such as improper helicopter maintenance. These routine procedures not only help detect issues before they cause harm but also extend an aircraft’s lifespan.

2. Helicopter Pilot Training and Experience

A well-trained pilot is another essential element in avoiding helicopter and aircraft crashes. Comprehensive training programs should cover all aspects related to flying a helicopter, which include:

  • Proper procedures for how pilots should handle emergency situations effectively when an unexpected issue takes place during flight hours
  • How to enhance situational awareness
  • Teaching pilots about the risks of hazards like power lines, bird strikes, and dangerous weather patterns.
  • Training simulations can help pilots react to the sound of the helicopter cockpit warning alerts and alarm bells and better handle dangerous scenarios.

A Helicopter Pilot in Training

A study published by the NTSB supports this critical concept. The report found that 76% of fatal accidents involved pilots with less than 1,000 hours of experience operating the specific make and model, indicating a strong correlation between lack of experience and higher accident rates.

3. Helicopter Flight Safety Regulations and Compliance

Beyond these internal measures, complying with external regulations set forth by entities like the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also plays a pivotal role in enhancing safety records.

The FAA provides detailed guidelines concerning various facets, from aircraft construction standards to operation protocols, which are instrumental in mitigating risks associated with the general aviation sector, especially amongst civil fleet operators.

Additional Helicopter Laws Made By Local Jurisdictions

Regions and countries also have specific safety regulations and guidelines tailored to their unique terrains, weather patterns, and airspace challenges.

For example, with its dense urban sprawl and frequent celebrity aerial tours, California, particularly Los Angeles, has crafted additional rules to ensure safer helicopter flights amidst the city’s skyscrapers.

On the other hand, countries like Canada, with its vast and sometimes remote landscapes, have laws prohibiting aircraft in or near national parks and national historic sites in a manner that disturbs wildlife.

Other countries, such as India and Israel, constantly revise their safety protocols in response to the dynamic nature of aviation challenges and technological advancements.

Adhering to these region-specific regulations and the overarching guidelines from entities like the FAA ensures a more organic approach to aviation safety.

Performing Data Analysis

4. NTSB Accident Data Analysis

Data analysis is another essential practice. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) provides valuable insights through detailed accident reports. These documents reveal key findings about past accidents, which can be used as learning tools to prevent future incidents.

Types of Injuries Resulting From Helicopter Accidents

When a helicopter accident occurs, the types and severity of injuries sustained can vary greatly. This is often dependent on factors such as the cause of the crash, whether it involves a main rotor blade strike or other mechanical issues.

U.S. Army Study About Helicopter Blade Injuries

The U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory performed a study based on helicopter rotor injury data spanning from 1972-1991, which determined that out of 24 blade strike injuries within the U.S. Army, half involved the main rotor.

That shows us not only the prevalence but also indicates a potentially overlooked area for safety improvement. If you’re interested, Pilot Institute offers more insights on the top causes of helicopter crashes.

Helicopter Rotor Blade Contact Causing Head Injuries

A primary concern in many helicopter accidents is penetrating head trauma resulting from blade strikes. The fast-spinning rotor blades can inflict severe damage to those onboard if an external load goes awry or improper maintenance leads to malfunction.

A Man Injured From a Helicopter Accident

Victims of head trauma in helicopter accidents often experience bone fractures and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). According to MedlinePlus Health Information, TBIs can range from mild concussions with short-term symptoms to severe brain damage that could result in long-term disability or even death.

Taiwan Military Helicopter Accident Study

Key findings published by doctors at the Armed Forces General Hospital in Taiwan reveal that during aircraft accidents involving helicopters, 65% of individuals suffer some form of head injury, more than any other body parts like the chest at 17% and abdomen at just 7%.

This statistic highlights why helmets (not legally mandatory in the United States) play such a crucial role in improving safety records for both commercial aircraft and general aviation purposes alike:

Not only do they protect against potential fatal accidents caused by impact forces, but they also help reduce the risk of severe injury or death should one become a victim of an accidental tail rotor contact.

However, even with protective gear like helmets, it is essential to remember that accidents can still lead to other injuries. In such cases, seeking appropriate medical attention becomes crucial. It’s advisable to consult medical professionals.

Helicopter Crash Injuries Are Serious

The likelihood of the injuries being nominal and only requiring a few visits to a chiropractor or physical therapist for muscle soreness is low.

Helicopter accidents and the injuries accompanying them make for life-and-death situations, and that is why emergency room doctors often refer injured patients to specialists for follow-up care.

These experts are able to guide their injured patients through effective treatment plans and help them regain their health as quickly as possible.

A Well-Maintained Helicopter

Ultimately, boosting helicopter safety boils down to a few best practices. Regular maintenance and inspection can catch problems early, while thorough pilot training helps manage emergencies.

Compliance with FAA regulations is also vital, as is learning from past accidents via data analysis.

Helicopter Accident Injury Lawsuits

After a helicopter accident, the immediate aftermath can be overwhelming. The reality is medical bills accumulate, and everyday expenses increase for the survivors, who often need to file lawsuits against the liable party to be compensated for these costs, as the accident was not their fault.

However, the legal proceedings of personal injury cases take time, and any compensation expected from a settlement or court decision is often a couple of years away.

So, the injured victims and their families have to deal with the physical and financial fallout without help while they wait for the wheels of justice to turn.

For many people, waiting patiently for their case to settle is not a situation they can bear. They need money now.

Solution: Apply For Lawsuit Funding

Fortunately, we at Express Legal Funding understand this as being a challenge helicopter crash victims may face, which is why the service we provide is a remedy to help people stay financially afloat in these dire situations.

That service is pre-settlement funding, which is a non-recourse cash advance to injured and damaged plaintiffs waiting for their cases to be settled or won.

Lawsuit Funding

This unique financial product works because when people are suing another party to recover money and can’t wait for their cases to resolve, they can obtain the pre-settlement funding as a means of non-recourse to use as they see fit.

By being non-recourse and not a loan, the advanced funds are repaid from the potential proceeds of the claim.

That means if there are no case proceeds being paid out to the plaintiff who received the funding against their claim due to their attorney trying their case in court but unfortunately ended up losing, the funds are theirs to keep, and they will have come out ahead by not going into debt.

That is one of the most critical components of pre-settlement advance funding and what can make it such a beneficial financial option.

(It is important to note that in a select few states, this type of consumer financing is considered a recourse lawsuit loan.)

So, if you or a loved one was a victim of an accident that was someone else’s fault, have an ongoing claim, and need money now to stay financially afloat, you should contact us to learn more and apply for legal funding.

At Express Legal Funding, we give our clients more options for quickly applying for pre-settlement funding anytime, 24/7. Whether that be giving us a call or applying online, we are here to help when injured claimants need it most.

There is no reason to wait for help when you are low on cash if you can kickstart your financial recovery early with lawsuit funding!

About the Author

Author profile

Aaron Winston is the Strategy Director of Express Legal Funding. As "The Legal Funding Expert," Aaron has more than ten years of experience in the consumer finance industry. Most of which was as a consultant to a top financial advisory firm, managing 400+ million USD in client wealth. He is recognized as an expert author and researcher across multiple SEO industries.
Aaron Winston earned his title "The Legal Funding Expert" through authoritative articles and blog posts about legal funding. He specializes in expert content writing for pre-settlement funding and law firm blogs.
Each month, tens of thousands of web visitors read his articles and posts. Aaron's thoroughly researched guides are among the most-read lawsuit funding articles over the past year.
As Strategy Director of Express Legal Funding, Aaron has devoted thousands of hours to advocating for the consumer. His "it factor" is that he is a tireless and inventive thought leader who has made great strides by conveying his legal knowledge and diverse expertise to the public. More clients and lawyers understand the facts about pre-settlement funding because of Aaron's legal and financial service SEO mastery.
Aaron Winston is the author of A Word For The Wise. A Warning For The Stupid. Canons of Conduct, which is a book in poetry format. It consists of 35 unique canons. The book was published in 2023.
He keeps an academic approach to business that improves the consumer's well-being. In early 2022, Aaron gained the Search Engine Optimization and the Google Ads LinkedIn skills assessment badges. He placed in the top 5% of those who took the SEO skills test assessment.
Aaron's company slogans and lawsuit funding company name are registered trademarks of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. He has gained positive notoriety via interviews and case studies, which are a byproduct of his successes. Aaron R. Winston was featured in a smith.ai interview (2021) and a company growth case study (2022).
In 2023, Aaron and Express Legal Funding received accolades in a leading SEO author case study performed by the leading professionals at WordLift. The in-depth data presented in the pre-settlement funding SEO case study demonstrate why Aaron Winston maintains a high-author E-E-A-T. His original writing and helpful content continue to achieve unprecedented success and stand in their own class.

Aaron was born in Lubbock, TX, where he spent the first eight years of his life. Aaron attended Akiba Academy of Dallas, TX.

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