I don’t know how many aircraft crash videos I have watched over the years, probably hundreds. The reason for watching them had morphed over the years for me from morbid curiosity as someone outside the aviation industry to becoming a learning tool. It has now become more critical in nature for me in watching videos like this, where I see not only what I can learn from a crash video, but how I can turn that into a positive for our readership. Be that a lesson on what not to do in a certain situation or avoid the specific situation seen in a video.
It has been a horrendous end to 2021 losing a Marc ‘Thor’ Olson in a SEAT crash, and 2022 has started horribly, at least on the helicopter side, with multiple crashes, many fatal just in the first few weeks of the year. This kind of start isn’t easy to rebound from as far as accident numbers go. Unfortunately, unless there is a massive lull in flying, this sets us up for a high fatality number of accidents this year.
What bothers me about many accidents is preventability. Just in the last two weeks, I have seen an accident where the pilot actively disregarded verbal warnings from a well-respected industry icon and an air medical pilot with thousands of hours. Both separately advised the pilot that it was a horrible idea to take off in the challenging weather seen. The pilot summarily disregarded this information and took off, crashing not even ten minutes later, killing a passenger.
In a second accident, seen in one of those horrific videos I referenced earlier, another pilot was flying at what is reported at times by NTSB preliminary data as 150 feet and 100 knots in what many of us refer to as “in the soup.” With little to no visual references, the helicopter clips a high tension wire and crashes to the causeway below before exploding, as captured on the truckers camera that then collided with the wreck—horrific video for anyone to see, which unfortunately went viral very shortly after the accident.
As noted in the preliminary investigation details from the NTSB in at least one of those crashes, it was obvious to those on the ground that flying in the conditions indicated was ill-advised at best and almost a suicide mission at worst. Yet, the pilot disregarded solid local advice and took off anyway. In the second case, the pilot had even landed once due to the poor conditions and chose to press on and take off again. It is a severe case of ‘pressonitis’ or ‘gettheritis’ or whatever you want to call it. Either way, both cases I speak of – many before and probably many after will have the exact same effect – families suffering the tragic loss of a loved one because of a poor choice or making a wrong decision because of pressure to fly.
Until the aviation industry eradicates that, we will continue to see the same thing repeatedly. As much as I harp on safety, I hope for a mindset change within the industry. In aerial firefighting, it is the want to put out the fire to save someone’s home or life; that’s why flights may be taken unnecessarily during risky conditions at times. It is the same reason that police officers run towards the danger. The white knight syndrome is a real thing, but it should never cost the life of the white knight, whoever they may be.
In the time I have been in the industry, I have seen many campaigns related to safety come and go. HAI’s “Land and Live” had some good traction for a while, but like anything else, the focus soon moves on, the T-shirts and marketing campaigns stop, and people go back to the status quo of shrugging their shoulders. In a perfect world, I would love to see people holding each other accountable and calling each other for potentially hazardous behavior like taking flights in marginal weather or miraculously surviving an IIMC incident because they took a flight when they shouldn’t have.
One grassroots effort seen on the Facebook group Helicopter Pilot Network has had some reasonable traction of late, coined by group founder Justin Prickett, the #SDSS movement or “Stop Doing Stupid Stuff” has had some reasonable traction a simple message that is self-explanatory. While overly sarcastic at times and hilariously comedic at others, the group has taken up the role of pointing out questionable flying and highlighting the stories of pilots who post pictures of their aircraft sitting in fields, by the side of a road, in farm pastures, or anywhere else. Those images are usually accompanied by a story of why the pilot decided to land their aircraft to wait out hazardous weather conditions that could have led to an accident.
Now, if we can take the lessons learned online in Facebook groups, applying them in the real world, combine that with having the intestinal fortitude to say to someone’s face that they shouldn’t be flying for reasons x,y, or z as quickly as we can call them out online, perhaps we would get somewhere as an industry and make a real difference. It is past time to turn the tide on these avoidable accidents and fatalities.