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Recent Helicopter Accidents

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So it seems we have had a rash of helicopter accidents in the last month or so. I wanted to share some of them with you in hopes of rasing some awareness.


Those of you that know me and attend the FAASTeam Seminar in Vegas know then that the last two years I have talked about IIMC. During that time we have seen a decline in IIMC incidents from a high back in 2008 or so. This year I do not intend to speak about IIMC. We have several new topics for everyone this year.


10/5/2012 B407. Marginal weather. Poss IIMC. 1 fatal.

10/10/2012 B407. IIMC. 2 fatal 1 serious.

10/10/2012 B206B. Hit guy wire from a tower. Marginal weather. 1 fatal.

Edited by JDHelicopterPilot
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Then there were the two allstar S76 pilots who hovered their helicopter into a tied down 206 last month.


Dont worry, it wasn't their fault because there wasn't a yellow line painted on the ground for them to follow. I guess there is a point where pilots can completely shove their heads up their butts and no longer have to think or be able to hover without hitting something.


But, that's a whole other topic..

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Kinda interesting side note, there was a worker on the antenna at the time that the 206 hit the other day. How often can you say there was an eye level witness to a helicopter accident at 400'? I'd venture to say that it wasn't weather related, based on what I had heard.

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Makes me glad I'm going through instrument training right now. I know the training will NEVER compare to the real thing, but at least I'll have the tools in my belt. Just a matter of using them before it's too late I suppose... Or recognize what's going on and act accordingly. One of the two.

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I just had a chance to fly a new 407GX (awesome!) and with that G1000h with synthetic vision it sure seemed like it would be a lot easier to deal with IIMC. It seems like a game changer and I really think SV will reduce these types of accidents. We are putting in a G500h system with SV in our BO105 project.


Any thoughts on SV and safety?

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In light of this thread I decided to look around on youtube to see what I could find. The video looks old (it isn't THAT old), but has some good information and thought I should share.



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Makes sense. It shouldn't, though.


I guess that's where personal minimums come into play. Figure out what they are and stick to them. Who cares if people give you a hard time for turning back or diverting? I've heard "better to be on the ground..." on more than one occasion on this forum.

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With out the instrument rating the pilot who does find himself IIMC will have next to no training on how to fly IFR and shoot an approach.


The issue is several things:


1: The pilot should have his/her own personal minimums.


2: The pilot should have a EDP (Enroute Decision Point). This is a point (decided ahead of time) that when reached the original flight plan should be changed due to weather.


Here is an example: when you find yourself flying (speed based on a turbine aircraft) 70knts and 300' DAY VFR then you need to do one of the following:


1: Turn around

2: Divert around localized weather to more favorable conditions

3: Land in a safe LZ to avoid IMC

4: Return to favorable weather conditions, file and continue flight IFR (if aircraft/pilot are IFR capable)

5: Transition to IFR and accpt that IIMC is the safest option and commit to IFR (VFR/IFR pilots both)


The biggest problem related to IIMC is that the pilot doesn't admit things are not as they should be, accept this and transition to IFR when in IMC. As soon as you enter IMC inadvertently, you must CLIMB and if you must, turn away from high terrian. That is the first step you take following your transition to instruments.


So often pilots do not commit and follow through the IIMC procedures and attempt to regain VMC. It is a mental and decision making issue.


I will bring this up at the safety seminar in Las Vegas. I am not going to review IIMC all over again but just cap a few critical points.

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As a non-instrument-rated guy (so sue me) I can speak to this IIMC thing: I don't do it. I know, I know, sometimes weather "catches you by surprise." Uh-huh. Sure.


During my time in the GOM working for PHI, I used to hear "scare stories" all the time from pilots who had IIMC encounters. These heroes always saved the day! by getting on the gauges and doing...something (not always the right thing)...that got them out of their predicament. And yes, they always told the tale in the "heroic first-person" tense. Now me, I used to listen to these sagas and think to myself, "What a douchebag! If he'd used better judgment he wouldn't have gotten into that situation in the first place."


PHI's cross-country minimums were 500' ceiling and 3 miles of viz. And understand, we sometimes flew around ALL DAY LONG in 500/3 weather. Trouble is, 500/3 can turn into 0/0 in a heartbeep if you're not paying attention. And so I paid attention. Over the 13 years I was in the GOM I often turned around and/or landed at some point other than my destination. "Punching in" was simply not an option for me. And so I didn't. One time I came close to popping the floats and landing on the water, but a platform appeared and so I landed on it.


In my post-PHI career, flying for a nitwit who liked to push the weather in our VFR-only 206B, I sometimes found myself in weather that was worse than I would prefer. Again, I would slow down and go down and yes, I've landed in farmer's fields and cow pastures and hunter's food plots and other places that were short of the destination.


One time we were trying to get back to the boss's hunting camp right at sunset with weather that was a LOT worse than forecast. And OF COURSE we were running late. I was picking my way in through the rain...on "final" (really close), down to about 300 feet...almost had the LZ in sight when everything went white. I mean zero-friggin-zero, paint the windscreen with Krylon Flat White white. Fog bank between our landing site and me. Jeebus! I went on the gauges and thought, "Boy, you've done screwed up now." Just as I was getting ready to pull pitch and climb out I caught sight of the LZ and landed. It was not pretty. It all happened in a few seconds but it scared the crap out of me I'm not ashamed to say. We landed, the fog rolled in and it got very, very dark...except for the incredibly loud pounding of my heart. Timing is everything, they say, and in that case I got lucky with the timing. That's pretty much my one-and-only weather scare story.


I don't do that job anymore. Looking back on the time I'd been with that guy, I realized that we had more "encounters" with bad weather than I like. Oh, and being Instrument Rated would not have helped in that case above. The things we were doing...the places we were landing...the only thing the IR would have given me was the legality to punch in and go shoot an approach somewhere...well...if I had the fuel, which I typically did not. When you fly a 206B for a guy who likes to put 5 people in it you don't have the luxury of taking IFR fuel reserves. Like I said, I don't do that job anymore.


Having the Instrument Rating is great - everybody should get one! But in and of itself it will not elminate accidents. And in fact it just might give a pilot a false sense of security. Because in addition to the rating, you need an aircraft with the capability to fly in IMC, *AND* enough fuel to get up into the system and go somewhere.


Going IIMC in a VFR-only helicopter is suicide. ...As we have tragically seen just recently.

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There is a point of transition of visual flying cues to instruments only that is very disorienting, even if you know well in advance when you can expect to be full IMC, and even when you can look ahead and clearly see the exact moment you will enter the clouds. This I base primarily on my fixed wing experience, although I have a tiny bit of the same kind of experience in rotary. Less than seconds can seem like more than hours, and one wrong move at this critical juncture can easily bring calamity in fixed wing, how much more so in rotary. And there is also an after affect that is like a hangover that lingers until you become fully acclimated and caged to your instrument scan. It kind of reminds me of a line form "The Right Stuff" about the demon that lurks just around mach 1, although in this case a demon that lurks in those few moments of disorientation when all visual cues are lost.

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I'd be out in the Gulf of Mexico on a hot, hazy, windless summer day. The viz could be 3 miles...or 30 miles...or .3 miles, depending. Flying one way, the sun would provide enough contrast that you could see "well enough." But turn around and...oh God! And I'd sit there sometimes, not really knowing *what* the viz actually was, unless there was a boat or a platform nearby to provide some sort of depth perception. Flying higher than 500 feet would make you IMC for all intensive purposes. I'd fly along, sometimes for extended periods (couple of minutes or longer), one eye on the flight gauges, the other out the window, flying at 560 feet, hoping nobody else was dumb enough to be out there doing the same thing. Yeah, *VERY QUICKLY* I got good at flying on the gauges. It's the dirty little secret of GOM flying. Good times...good times.


Then there were days when I'd leave a shore base and head out, climbing high to get into the clear, cool air above the scattered clouds and fish-spotters that always seemed to linger along the "beach." Then get out near the destination and start a descent into the haze and...oh God! Turn into the sun to make the descent! ...Which worked okay unless the sun was directly overhead.


Airplanes put the primary flight instruments right in front of the pilot. Helicopter manufacturers like to put them off to the side, so you have to turn your head to see them. (Astars and Twinstars are generally better about this.) And the navigators always seem to be down low on a slant console, never up on top of the dash where they ought to be. Why do they make it so hard for us? At PHI, the avionics items I used the *least*...the VFH radio and transponder...were always at the top of the radio stack with the GPS at the bottom. What kind of f*cked-up logic is that? This is why IIMC encounters in helicopters are so deadly. A lot of times we don't even give the hapless pilot a decent chance of transitioning to the gauges, 'cuz he can't just stare straight ahead at them when the world outside suddenly goes white.

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Why would manufactures consider setting up avionics and instrument positions for a condition of IIMC?


IIMC should be avoided by PICs using good judgement.


How many VFR flights take place that do not go IIMC when it could be possible?


Now, setting up an IFR panel for IFR flight should be a consideration.


The emphasis in training and ADM/SRM should be on "Avoidance" of IIMC.

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I’m lucky. The majority of my AOA is confined to a specific area of roughly 1500sq miles and I’m free to explore every inch of that area, in all conditions, day and night.


In my opinion….


If you work fly in a region with notoriously bad weather, then you should make every attempt to train in such conditions and generate a plan. Theory has its place but rest assured, its not with a first time IIMC encounter. Additionally, having intimate knowledge of the local geography is key as well. This way, you know where the safe LZ’s are and area’s to avoid such as high terrain. While not legal, GPS’s can provide some situational awareness with respect to your location but again, not legal. Furthermore, on my kneeboard, I have a diagram of minimum ceiling heights with respect to terrain for back doors. However, nothing is better than a firm understanding of local weather in order to avoid the condition altogether. Six P’s –right? Avoidance is the only sure fire method of surviving IIMC encounters.


For me, my saving grace in the past has been Vref. That is, having the ability to fly the machine while looking straight down. This technique was taught to me while out on a tuna boat. That is, if caught on the opposite side of a squall with torrential downpours restricting your forward visibility, then hit the deck and essentially Vref with the water and walk the machine out. It worked….. Obviously, not recommended of terra-firma encounters.


Lastly, in another thread I asked the question “If you are a current and proficient SPIFR PIC flying an IFR certified machine and you go IIMC, is it considered an emergency?” I got one “yes” and one “depends”. If anyone should be able to handle an IIMC encounter, you’d think the proficient/certified SPIFR operator would be the one. Therefore, if industry professionals have some reservations about this, what’s that say about the chances of survival for Joe-average non-SPIFR pilot? Slim-to-none I’d say….

Edited by Spike
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A Better Way to Escape IMC?


A pilot challenges conventional wisdom



Your former student--who passed his private pilot checkride less than a week ago--decides to try that "Special VFR" clearance procedure you taught him about, only to find himself unexpectedly in the clouds. Or perhaps he's exercising his newfound privileges at night, and suddenly all the lights on the ground go out because of a cloud he couldn't see. Chilling thoughts for any instructor.

As a CFI, you know very well that any situation involving unplanned instrument flying isn't good. For newly minted private pilots (or any pilot, for that matter) it's an up-close-and-personal look at the face of a killer called inadvertent entry into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC). If it should happen to one of your students, will the survival training you provided be enough?

Let me make a modest proposal that will no doubt be called heresy. Let's abolish the sacred "lifesaving 180-degree turn" to get out of IMC.

According to the latest AOPA Air Safety Foundation Nall Report on general aviation safety, pilots who crash after inadvertently entering IMC have about a 71 percent chance of killing at least one person on board. About a quarter of those accidents involve an in-flight breakup. For the unfortunate souls who had been aboard those aircraft, the fatality rate is 100 percent, a sobering figure All CFIs know the best ways to minimize the chance of an inadvertent IMC encounter: Exercise good judgment. Check the weather carefully before flight. Stay away from weather that is likely to challenge your skills. Get an instrument rating.

It's all good advice to give to our students, but not as bulletproof as you might think, particularly the advice to earn an instrument rating. Surprisingly, 43 percent of the pilots who inadvertently ran into IMC and had accidents were instrument rated. That means that it is not the instrument rating, but good instrument flying skills that will save the day in such a case.

It was exactly that horrible accident record that led the FAA to add the current requirement for private pilot candidates to have at least three hours of flying by reference to instruments. Most CFIs use at least part of that time to teach the standard lifesaving 180-degree turn, to be used if instrument conditions are unintentionally encountered. In truth, once you're in IMC, turning might be the worst thing you can do. Just as in any other in-flight emergency, you must first establish control of the airplane, and in IMC that requires an effective instrument scan.

So let's abolish that "lifesaving 180-degree turn" concept to escape inadvertent entry to IMC. Are you thinking I should be strung up for my heresy? Well, while you're looking for a yardarm from which to hang me, go to the U.S. Navy. In flight school, the Navy teaches student naval aviators who accidentally encounter IMC to commit themselves to flying on instruments to keep the greasy side down.

The Navy procedure goes like this:

Level the wings. This is the first step to insure control of your airplane, because it is the first step in starting an instrument scan. It forces the pilot's attention to the primary attitude instrument, whether that instrument is a turn needle, turn coordinator, or something else.

Center the ball. An airplane flying in trim may stall, but it will not spin. Recovering from a spin on the gauges may present more of a challenge than even the best and most current of instrument pilots can handle, so center the ball. Doing so also helps lessen the disorientation from forces felt when the airplane is flying out of trim.

Stop the rate of climb or descent. Put the nose on the horizon or wherever it goes when your airplane is straight and holding altitude. Set the throttle to cruise power. If it was already there when visual reference was lost, leave it alone. With the wings level and nose on the horizon, the airplane will stabilize on an altitude. Glance at the vertical speed indicator and altimeter. As both stabilize, make small corrections to stop any trend you see to climb or descend. By the time the airplane is under control, you probably have a good instrument scan working for you. Then....

Climb. If already higher than the terrain, with a safety margin to boot, the pilot can skip this step. But if at an altitude less than rising terrain or obstructions, push the throttle full forward, trim to maximum rate of climb, and climb like a homesick angel. Plan a level-off altitude that gives a margin of safety. VFR charts include obstruction elevations, and IFR charts have minimum safe altitudes, both by sector. If in doubt about this altitude, keep climbing!

Turn. I know I said before not to turn, but this isn't the 180-degree turn we've always taught our students. Instead, the pilot should turn just enough to avoid terrain or obstructions ahead. If there is nothing in front, don't turn. For pilots who are adamant about using the "lifesaving 180-degree turn," perhaps because their CFI told them to do it way back when they were learning to fly, keep in mind that the airplane's heading probably drifted just after entering IMC. Also consider that the weather behind may be just as bad as the stuff surrounding the airplane now. If a turn is truly necessary, perhaps to head for VFR weather or help, figure out the proper heading before starting the turn.

Confess. If the airplane is under control, the instrument scan established, and a safe altitude attained, the only obstacle will be IFR traffic in the clouds. So squawk 7700. Any conflicting IFR traffic under ATC radar control will be turned by the controller as soon as the emergency squawk appears on the radar screen. Squawking is also easier at this point than looking up a center or approach control frequency. It's also more effective in the short run than sorting out who will be answering "Guard" (121.5 MHz).

IAP. This stands for instrument approach procedure. It's the way to get out of clouds if an approach control or center can't help the pilot. Normally, instrument approach charts aren't part of the private pilot curriculum, but since your student will likely be doing his best impression of an instrument pilot at some future time, it might be a good idea to teach him how to use an IAP in an emergency. Once a pilot is familiar with them, keeping instrument approach charts nearby is a good habit even for VFR fliers.

As we've always told our students, there is no better way to avoid inadvertent IMC than to exercise good judgment in marginal weather while operating under visual flight rules. Barring that, an instrument rating and frequent IFR practice is a good recommendation. In any event, staying proficient at flying an airplane solely by the flight instruments is an excellent idea.

So let's abolish the cherished "180-degree lifesaving turn," at least as the sole recommended way to escape inadvertent IMC, and instead encourage our students to keep their instrument skills sharp. Having a proven emergency procedure for handling such emergencies is one of the best lessons you could pass on to your flight students.

The writer's advice in this article is meant to encourage discussion among CFIs on training techniques, and is not necessarily an ASF recommendation or policy. Your input on this technique is solicited, and may be used in a future article. Please send your observations to asf@aopa.org.

Patrick Shaub is an active airplane and helicopter flight instructor, senior lecturer for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, and co-owner of Eagle Training Solutions in Burnet, Texas.


By Patrick Shaub

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Funny,...I never really saw my instrument training as, "developing skills that could one day save my life". I pretty much viewed the whole experience as, just satisfying some douche's insurance requirements,..."we only hire instrument instructors", they said.


I have no intention of ever flying a helicopter in IMC,...in fact, I avoid it like the plague! Maybe I'm just a pussy, but 500/3, no thanks! So I guess I'll skip the GOM.

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the 180 in IIMC has saved me twice...

1st time I had about 80 hours TT fixed wing, it was night in a C210 departure out of BOI about 30 miles east when we flew into a snow shower/cloud. I started the turn but forgot to remember what heading I was on when I started.. (i was pretty scared to say the least) alas, 30 seconds after entering we were out and safe to continue south and head toward lights... never made our destination of PIH that night... went to TWF.

2nd time I had around 500 tt in a mooney attempting to get into UES daytime in the winter with 3 miles vis and 500 ovc... We were approaching from the southwest and the clouds kept pushing us down til we hit the 500 mark about 15 out... we pushed on until slipping into the clouds and executing the 180... again within 30 seconds back in the clear.

Now I don't relate these experiences to illustrate you can push on, because they were experiences that taught me my limits and reinforced the 180 and the need for an instrument rating in an airplane.

I'm still not convinced of the need of an instruent rating for 90% of the work helicopters do and certainly dont think it should be a requirement like it has become today. But you have to do what you have to do.

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The operators I've worke for never recommended nor approved a 180 when encountering IIMC. All of them, for more than 30 years, have said that you just climb straight ahead, terrain permitting, pretty much the procedure noted above. Get the wings level, get climb power in, and climb, keeping everything level and coordinated. We practice this every 6 months, at a minimum. We also practice recovering from a brownout landing. I got into one of those once, when the local fire department set us up an LZ in the middle of a silica plant in the middle of the night. Fortunately, I saw the dust coming before it arrived, at a couple of hundred feet above the ground, got 100% torque and a climb attitude in, and we climbed up through it. IMO, those are more dangerous than IIMC, because you're generally at very low airspeed, far belown Vmin, and very close to the ground.


As for not liking 500/3, those are conservative minimums, and many operators use lower. Remember, Part 91 only requires 'clear of clouds'. And almost all the operators use 300/2 for twins, IFR-equipped or not. Obviously that second engine makes you much safer in worse weather. :rolleyes: And you're expected to fly to minimums, all day, every day. If you don't, you won't be employed long. So if you don't like that, you're correct in staying far from the GOM. 500/3 in a 206B over Vermilion Bay, with the brown water blending completely into the brown sky, will tighten your sphincter so much you may need a couple of days to relax it enough to empty your bowels. Or not. :ph34r:

Edited by Gomer Pylot
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Some great points by all on a very tough topic.


It is important to note that avoidance is the number one goal.


However, it is (I believe) important to be prepared for the event just in case. Take that a step farther, when you work with a Part 135 operator you will train for it. In fact, for EMS operators it is a requirement that IIMC training and TESTING be done per the FAA. So, not only will it be in your training but also on your checkride. Often the instructor will have you low to the ground (just departing a LZ) facing terrian and "pop" you in the clouds. The standard is that you recover using the best of the options you have. Although, for the VFR only pilots they will want to see you shoot an instrument approach to minimums.


When I went to Flight Safety in the B407 the instructor really had a hard time with me. He was trying to get me in the clouds but I wasn't letting him. I turned around, flew lower then finally told him I was landing. At that point he promptly turned the weather down in the simulator to 0/0 while I was in a box canyon. Long story short I climbed and shot an ILS approach. I share that because I want students and CFIs to see that once you start flying with larger operators and under Part 135 the expectation is that you be able to get yourself out of an IIMC situation.


Spike asked in another post if a SPIFR Pilot went IIMC if that would be an emergency?? In my opinion (as well as the company I work for) the answer is yes.


The procedure put forth by Mike is nearly identical to the one that I use and we have a checklist for IIMC in the aircraft.


I have also been witness to weather closing in very quickly from all directions well early than was forecast. So, encountering unforcast weather is possible. When I flew off-shore California the company minimums were 400/1 and we flew all day long VFR.


In short I would rather be prepared for it and not need that training that not be prepared and need it.

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Just yesterday during a monthly web conference for the IHST, JHSIT training work group, we were discussing/approving our soon to be published Fact Sheets. One of these is about CFIT which addresses IIMC some. We were kicking around another fact sheet totally on IIMC. Here are some of the links to info that we were looking at.




Note the mention of the lack of Risk Management for those common flights that we so often do or have previously completed many times.


http://www.iasa-fran...id=39&Itemid=69 This one is worth watching and absorbing.


Lately, in presentations to pilot groups I have been asking pilots if they have developed or accepted a specific method of Assessing Risks and Managing Risks continuously before & during flights plus evaluating the management process during post flight considerations? Some of them give me that WTF is he talking about look which really scares me ( I try not to show my fears).


Another link




Learn/teach "Avoidance, Avoidance, Avoidance" as Tim Tucker (JHSIT TWG member) reiterated that most helicopter pilots have zero chance of recovering from IIMC as they are not instrument current/proficient and the airframe they are flying is not "IIMC equipped".


This is about all of us, you, me and our peers. Develop RA & RM habits & skills and stick to them.



Edited by Mikemv
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