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Read More: How First Responders Can Help
August 13, 2018

Dispatch has just called: a helicopter has landed unexpectedly in a local park. The pilot had not requested prior permission to do so. What are you likely to find when you arrive?

You’re likely to find a pilot, possibly with passengers, who opted to make a precautionary landing because something just wasn’t right with the flight. Perhaps the weather turned more quickly than forecast. Maybe winds were stronger so he was burning more fuel than planned for. Maybe a warning light came on. Or perhaps either he or his passengers started to feel poorly during the flight.

For a pilot, a precautionary landing is the equivalent of a driver pulling off to the shoulder. It’s something you do before a situation becomes an emergency. And it’s the responsible, professional thing to do.

How First Responders Can Help

If you are dispatched to the scene of a precautionary landing, you can help secure the scene and maintain public safety.

Once you’ve determined that the situation is safe, there are a couple of things you can do to assist the pilot and expedite the helicopter’s departure.

First, help protect the helicopter:

  • Establish a cordon.
  • If the helicopter has landed in or near a street, use your vehicle to divert traffic past the rotor blades.
  • Because of the potential for fuel spills, use your light bar to alert traffic. DO NOT use flares!

Second, ask the pilot if he or she needs help contacting their home base.
The pilot may need to update their base on the status of the flight and the condition of the crew, passengers, and aircraft. Depending on the reason for the precautionary landing, the pilot may also need to arrange for repairs or fuel.

Read More: Choosing to Land
August 12, 2018

A helicopter has just landed unexpectedly in a local or ball field. The pilot says it wasn’t an emergency yet — but she had some safety concerns.

As a first responder, you might be surprised by the sudden appearance of an aircraft in your town. Do pilots have the right to land if they believe their ability to continue the flight safely is compromised?

Well, yes. According to U.S. Federal Aviation Regulations, “The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority [emphasis added] as to the operation of that aircraft” [14 CFR 91.3a].

The practice of aviation can be unforgiving. Mechanical failures can cause crashes — and there are a host of other causes too. Flying in poor visibility can reduce a pilot’s life expectancy to a matter of seconds. An unexpected detour or a strong headwind can burn fuel more quickly than expected. Or perhaps someone on board has fallen ill.

Under any of these circumstances, making a precautionary landing is the right, safe, and professional thing to do. When facing deteriorating conditions and choosing to land, the pilot is stopping the accident chain before the emergency. He or she is living up to their most important responsibility: the safety of their passengers, aircraft, and people on the ground.

As a first responder, you too have a role in public safety. Learn how you can help at the scene of a precautionary landing.