Spotlight on Safety: 56 Seconds to Live: beyond the USHST video

Chris Hill Top Story

Apr. 15, 2021

Popular production to be accompanied by an online course, regional simulator training sessions, and more.

On Feb. 10, 2021, the US Helicopter Safety Team (USHST) released 56 Seconds to Live, a dramatic video that follows a fictitious pilot’s fateful decisions as he continues VFR flight into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC).

The journey’s outcome is unsurprisingly like that of the Air Safety Institute’s now-famous 178 Seconds to Live, but adapted for helicopter pilots.

Viewer comments about 56 Seconds, like the ones posted to YouTube below, revealed to the 56 Seconds project team that we had achieved our goal of sparking a spirited discussion that could drive meaningful change:

  • “Powerful video! This should be widely distributed to all helicopter pilots around the world. Shocking and compelling at the same time. Well done. You sometimes have to shock people to hammer the point home!”—Shukokai Stu 1983
  • “A remarkable production, particularly because it demonstrates how the complete loss of visual references is just the epitaph of successive abuses of visual flight rules.”—Fernando Moraes
  • “This is a stupid video, but unfortunately, this is really the way a HELL OF A LOT of helicopter pilots operate and think or, more accurately, don’t think. … I hate to say it, but most airplane guys are like Einstein compared to the way the Helicopter Bubbas operate. Sad.”—notsoancientpelican

I hope that last comment opened some eyes. Is this a perception we can tolerate? I hope not. What, if anything, can we do about it?

What’s Next?
For those who expected more than just a dramatic video on the topic of inadvertent entry into IMC (IIMC), we have you covered! Many “56 Seconds” program resources are now available, and much more is on the way:

  • Current resources: Go to to view videos and other resources, including techniques in how to recognize, prevent, and recover from IIMC situations.
  • Today’s HAI@Work webinar: Register for the Apr. 15 HAI@Work webinar, at 4:00 pm eastern (UTC-4), to participate in a roundtable discussion about the 56 Seconds to Live program. Our expert panelists will also answer your questions. Those who are unable to attend the webinar can watch the recording of it, as well as those of previous HAI@Work webinars.
  • Online training course: The USHST will soon release its companion 56 Seconds to Live training course, which includes alternate video endings (in which the pilot survives) as well as IIMC decision-making, planning, avoidance, and emergency recovery techniques. 
  • Simulator training: The USHST and participating training providers are also planning to deliver regional training sessions using scenario-based instruction and simulation devices. Stay tuned for more in the coming months.

Doing Your Part
If you’re not one of the 20,000-plus viewers who’ve seen 56 Seconds, we encourage you to watch it and share it with your colleagues.

Can a video and a lively social media exchange reverse one of the rotorcraft industry’s top killer trends? Maybe not. But wringing our hands won’t do much either. We all have a part to play in eradicating the problem.

HAI and USHT will promote 56 Seconds to Live, Land & LIVE, and future campaigns that show promise in moving the needle. If we can modify just one operator’s procedures or one pilot’s behavior and save a life, it will be well worth our efforts.

And if we can all come together as an industry and drive real change in how we train for and prevent continued VFR flight into IMC, we can save many more lives.

Who’s in?

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