Moving the Safety Needle

As I read the latest press release from the United States Helicopter Safety Team (USHST), I was saddened to see that if the accident rate  for 2019 continues, this year will be on track to become one of the worst on record for helicopter accidents.

This year, in particular, hit me the hardest, as 2019 was the first year I lost a friend in a fatal accident. While I still have many questions relating to the crash that will likely remain unanswered until the NTSB is complete with their investigation, one thing is for sure. The industry is worse off for the loss of a great pilot and even better human when it lost Geoff Painter.

His accident, and the loss of a French firefighting S2F near Générac, France got me thinking. While only a single crash, the bigger loss to the industry to me is the loss of knowledge and experience that occurs when we lose an aerial firefighting pilot. In this highly skilled industry where often times experience is measured in decades not years, it creates a void that is difficult to fill.

The years I have been in the aviation field, I have tried to read as many accident reports as possible. I don’t read them out of a macabre fascination, but as an educational tool. I try to learn from them in the hopes that I can share information one day that may prevent someone else from making a potentially fatal mistake. 

I see many people on social media when an accident is being discussed try to shut down a conversation by referencing the need for a full investigation to take place, respect for the deceased etc. I agree with that, however, thoughtful conversation between professionals about potential risk factors, procedures, training, and how you do your job safely should never be taboo. 

This was the case when many groups on the Internet simply shutdown conversation about a recent near controlled flight into terrain event while fighting fires. Fortunately, the crew recovered the aircraft and was able to submit a report that detailed the near-catastrophic event. I am sure we all learned from reading the first-hand account from the pilot.

We can all agree that flying an aircraft involves skill and flying safely requires good decision making. Those decisions can be as simple as calculating correct weight and balance. Yet, too often it becomes evident in NTSB accident investigation reports that there was an entirely avoidable error chain that snowballed into an accident. 

Whichever way you look at it, the aviation community has a great history of self-regulating and making improvements that continue to raise the bar in safety. While accidents are in many cases a gut check for many, I hope that we continue to talk about accidents and what we learned in the hope that  we can move the safety needle in the right direction.

Until the next issue, fly safe,

This column featured in the fall issue of AerialFire Magazine, you can read this column and more by clicking the magazine cover below.

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