The Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses (BEA), the French air accident investigation body for civil aviation safety is the French authority responsible for Safety Investigations in the civil aviation field. This Bureau has recently released a search for similar events to the accident taking place on the 24th October, 2015, involving EC130 B4, registered F-GOLH, at Megève, where, during take-off, the pilot stabilized the helicopter in hover in the ground effect and then began to rotate it to the left around its yaw axis in order to face the climb-out path. During this manoeuvre, the pilot lost the yaw control of the aircraft, which turned several times on itself before crashing below a slope adjacent to the take-off area.
Although the pilot was not wearing a helmet, and suffered a head injury, he remained lucid enough to cut off the electrical power, pull the fuel shut-off lever and help evacuate the passengers, some of whom still had their belts attached.
BEA has prepared this report aiming to highlight the importance of wearing a protective helmet by the pilot. In half of the cases, investigative agencies revealed that wearing a helmet limited the severity of the pilot’s injuries. In particular, two reports mention that wearing the helmet meant that the pilot remained conscious after the impact, preserving therefore his ability to provide assistance to passengers during the evacuation. Finally, in other cases, it was established that the pilot’s injuries were aggravated by the fact that he was not wearing a helmet.
Let’s briefly discuss the 13 case studies.
1.- Accident on 10 July 2004 in Switzerland involving the SA 315B Lama helicopter registered HB-XFX.
The pilot was wearing a helmet that protected him from more serious injuries to his head.
2.- Accident on 5 March 2006 in the Swiss Alps involving the AS 365 Dauphin helicopter registered HB-XQS.
The investigation found that the co-pilot, who had suffered a mild traumatic brain injury, lost consciousness and suffocated due to large-scale inhalation of vomit into the lungs. His life would have been saved if he had worn a protective helmet. SESE, the Swiss Investigative Body, recommended that the Federal Office of Civil Aviation impose the wearing of helmets on all persons in the cockpit of a helicopter, given that the helmet offers protection against injury.
3.- Accident on 10 August 2006 in Norway involving the AS 350 B3 helicopter registered LN-ODK.
None of the occupants were equipped with a protective helmet. The SHT (Norwegian Investigation Body) recommended that the operator equip its personnel with protective helmets.
4.- Accident on 17 August 2008 in the mountain range of Argentière involving an AS350 helicopter registered F-GTTB.
Wearing of a protective helmet was vital for the pilot’s survival during the emergency landing.
5.- Accident on 12 March 2009 in Canada involving the Sikorsky S-92A helicopter registered C-GZCH.
The pilots were not wearing protective helmets. They were seriously injured especially by the impact of their heads and faces on the instrument panels. The TSB (Transportation Safety Board of Canada) recommended then that Canadian authorities and the Helicopter Association of Canada implement a pilot awareness programme on the importance of the protective helmet. As a result of this serious accident, the operator set up a safety programme offering financial compensation to pilots for the acquisition of protective helmets.
6.- Accident on 27 May 2009 in the municipality of Montferrier involving an AS 350 B3 helicopter registered F-GVCE.
The pilot suffered severe head injuries, as was not wearing protected helmet. The BEA recommended to the EASA the mandatory use of protective helmets for helicopter crews, at least for certain activities.
7.- Accident on 21 July 2009 in Champagne involving a Bell 47 G2 helicopter registered F-BTGR.
The protective helmet played an important role mitigating the pilot injuries during the emergency landing.
8.- Accident on 27 March 2014 in Australia involving an R22 helicopter registered VH-HRX.
The pilot was not wearing a protective helmet and was injured in the neck and head. The ATSB (Australian Transport Safety Bureau), recommended that operators and pilots consider the benefits of wearing a protective helmet in terms of reducing the risk of head injury.
9.- Accident on 13 May 2014 in Canada involving an AS 350 BA helicopter registered C-FHPC.
The pilot was wearing a protective helmet, which suffered a significant impact.
He was conscious after impact, and was able to shut down the engine and help his colleague who was seriously injured. The TSB states in the report that not wearing a protective helmet increases the risk of head injury and the loss of consciousness of the pilot after a crash or ditching. As a result of this accident, the operator set up a safety programme providing financial compensation to pilots for the purchase of protective helmets.
10.- Accident on 20 May 2014 in Canada involving the Bell 212 helicopter registered C-FJUR.
The pilot was not wearing a protective helmet, and this fact contributed to the aggravation of his head injuries. The investigation report refers to a study concludes that the head is the second most frequently injured part of the body in a helicopter accident and that US Military has carried some research, identifying that helicopter occupants who do not wear a protective helmet face a risk up to six times higher of fatal head injuries.
11.- Accident on 24 June 2014 in Norway involving an AS 350 B3e helicopter registered LN-OSY.
The pilot was not wearing a protective helmet. According to the report prepared by the SHT, this increases the risk of loss of consciousness on impact and therefore compromises the pilot’s ability to assist passengers in case of evacuation.
12.- Accident on 12 November 2015 in Australia involving a R22 helicopter registered VH-HWJ.
The protective helmet played an important role mitigating the injuries to the pilot. Following a previous accident, the operator established a mandatory use for its pilots.
13.- Accident on 12 May 2016 in Australia involving a R22 helicopter registered VH-WGB.
Wearing a protective helmet limited the severity of the pilot’s injuries. ATSB indicates that this accident highlighted the value of wearing a helmet.
We must point out that the excerpts from Regulation (EU) No. 965/2012 on explicit air operations concerning the wearing of protective helmets are located exclusively in the annexes concerning “specialized operation”:
SPO.IDE.H.205 Individual protective equipment: Each person on board shall wear individual protective equipment that is adequate for the type of operation being undertaken.
GM1 SPO.IDE.H.205 Individual protective equipment: Personal protective equipment should include, but is not limited to: flying suits, gloves, helmets, protective shoes, etc.
and do not make it mandatory for helicopter pilots to wear protective helmets when carrying out specialized operations.
When it comes to a public passenger transport operation, the regulations do not make any protective equipment compulsory in an explicit manner. However, the operator is always required to implement a safety management system in order to identify and manage the risks associated with the different types of operations to be performed. It can therefore choose the wearing of protective equipment, and in particular protective helmets.