Read More: Katrina Remembered
November 17, 2020

First came the floodwaters. Next came the helicopters.

US Coast Guard (USCG) Aviation Survival Technician Petty Officer 2nd Class Joel Sayers, suspended beneath a hovering orange USCG rescue helicopter, is lowered to the rooftop of a home. His mission: to save an elderly woman clinging to that roof, the house now surrounded by rising floodwaters. It is Aug. 29, 2005, the first day of Hurricane Katrina rescue operations and mere hours after the flood levees failed, releasing billions of gallons on storm-sieged New Orleans.

As Sayers touches down, the woman anxiously rushes toward him, pointing and shouting to be heard above the roar of the rotors; her husband is trapped in the attic below their feet, unable to escape. Sayers drops down and looks through the small opening in the roof the woman managed to escape through. The face of her trapped husband peers back.

Unable to widen the hole any further using the rescue helicopter’s lightweight crash ax, Sayers realizes he needs something with more weight—and a better plan. He speaks to the man through the ragged opening, shaking his hand, calming him, assuring him, and promising to return soon. He then ties a brightly colored strip of cloth around one of the roof’s visible vent pipes to better identify the house before convincing the woman to leave her husband behind … temporarily.

Katrina Strikes

Recently, we observed the 15-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, widely considered one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the United States. Forming over the Bahamas on Aug. 23, 2005, the storm crossed into southern Florida as a Category 1, gathering strength in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico before wreaking catastrophic damage on parts of south Florida and stretches of the Mississippi Gulf Coast and unleashing mass flooding in the greater New Orleans area.

In A Failure of Initiative, the 2006 federal after action report by the US House of Representatives that examined the response to Hurricane Katrina, both the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center received praise for their forecast efforts. Storm track projections were available nearly 56 hours before Katrina’s arrival, with the landfall prediction off by a mere 15 miles.

In its preparations for Katrina’s arrival, the USCG issued broadcasts to mariners—repeated radio warnings to the offshore recreational and commercial fishing communities—and pre-positioned key rescue assets to safe areas ahead of the storm, thereby ensuring airframe survivability and promoting a rapid response posture as soon as the weather conditions permitted.

Despite all early warnings and preparations—and as it remains today with economically challenged communities where seasonal natural disasters are common—thousands of New Orleanians were simply unable to evacuate ahead of the storm. But Katrina wasn’t just a storm. The extreme rain, surging waters, and high winds stressed the city’s extensive flood protection system to the breaking point.

Read More: About This Issue
August 16, 2020

On the Cover: Aviation photographer Dan Sweet (who also has a day job as HAI’s director of public relations and communications) photographed HAI Board of Directors Chair Stacy Sheard at the Fanatics hangar at Philadelphia International Airport (KPHL) on Jun. 8, 2020. An AW139 captain who flies corporate transport, Sheard is also an energetic networker with a passion for helping veterans and, well, just about anybody. She has a personal message to HAI members here, and her profile begins here.

Read More: HAI on Social
August 16, 2020

Reach the beach! According to comments on social media, challenging landings at austere locations, like this one performed by an Airbus H145 operated by Scandinavian AirAmbulance, occur more often than we might think.

Read More: Making Safety Simple (but Effective)
August 15, 2020

Putting safety first isn't as hard as it looks.

One of the worst parts about reading accident reports is seeing how the accident chain was forged, link by link, especially as you know what the final result will be. If it were a horror movie, you would yell at the screen, “Stop scud running!” or, “Find a landing site now!”

I recently witnessed the opposite, where an accident chain unraveled before my eyes. I saw an aviator gather facts and then make an informed decision to not go flying that day—despite his own desire to fly, and a little joshing and peer pressure from an airport comrade.

Aeronautical decision-making is the cornerstone to safe flight operations. There are many components to it, but it’s ultimately where the pilot in command measures his or her ability and confidence to successfully complete a safe flight against the risks of that flight. Although we talk about the go/no-go decision, there are actually many decisions involved, because a pilot is always evaluating current conditions and considering options or adjustments to the flight plan.

Changing flight conditions can be mechanical items such as a sudden drop in oil pressure or loss of electrical power. Pilots also have to evaluate adjustments to their environment, such as changing weather conditions or transitioning from day to night. To help determine the risks involved in continued flight, we use tools such as experience, airman ratings, aircraft capability and equipment, and weather forecasts. And there are additional safety tools that we sometimes don’t use enough, such as ATC assistance, PIREPs, and preflight risk assessments.

One of the most challenging decisions for a pilot is to accept current local weather conditions as they are—not as we would like them to be, not as they are 5 miles away, and not as they will be in one hour’s time. I don’t know why that is. It should be an easy decision. 

When I was a new helicopter air ambulance pilot, I was eager to prove my worth to the company. On my first day shift after completing company-required training, I was relieving the base lead pilot who was coming off the night shift. We discussed the night’s activities, and he passed me the handheld radio and told me to have fun.

Not long after, I received a flight request for a hospital transfer patient. I answered that radio call, “Stand by, I’m checking wx.” However, having recently reviewed the weather as part of the shift change, I already knew what conditions were: absolute crap, with summer fog in Virginia along the Potomac River.
The lead pilot, who was still in the room, walked over, took the radio from me, and said, “This is how you do this.” He responded, “[Call sign] declined for weather.”

It really is that simple. It’s hard to say no, but it doesn’t have to be. 

Back to my good aeronautical decision-making moment a few weeks ago: The weather from the AWOS was 1,400 feet overcast and greater than 6 miles visibility, with a light breeze. By all accounts, it was OK weather, although probably not what you want for a long cross-country trip.

I wanted to fly my aircraft because I had upgraded some avionics and was eager to try them out. My machine is IFR certified and nicely equipped with all kinds of pilot information systems and a fully coupled autopilot. I am IFR trained, current, and proficient.

My airport comrade didn’t feel as confident as I did. His aircraft is a nice machine also and well equipped, but he doesn’t have an autopilot. He is IFR trained but not current or proficient.

I told him I’d send a PIREP when I got airborne to confirm or deny the AWOS report. The numbers were accurate as reported.

My pilot friend declined to fly that day. After considering all the data he put into his decision-making machine (his brain), he came up with a solution that recommended not flying.

When I returned from flying, we discussed his decision. I did rib him a little over it because that’s what we army and marine vets do. But in the end, I made a point to tell him, “Good job on sticking to your decision and what’s right for you.”

On that day, my faith in how the aeronautical decision-making process can work was restored. My airport comrade had made his go/no-go decision by taking into consideration the weather, his machine, his ratings, his ability, and mostly, his confidence in a safe outcome. He wasn’t afraid to say the conditions weren’t right for him to fly that day. It really is that simple.

Fugere tutum!

Read More: Practice Makes Perfect
August 15, 2020

Three ditching survivors acknowledge owing their lives to underwater egress training.

When there are only seconds in which to respond, thorough drilling in the appropriate procedures can be crucial to successfully confronting a life-threatening emergency. With no time to puzzle out a response or even read a checklist, survival depends not just on remembering the correct sequence of steps but on having practiced it recently and often enough to execute it precisely and without hesitation—in a situation certain to be more ­chaotic and frightening than the typical training environment.

In its final report on the Jan. 28, 2019, ditching of a Sikorsky S-64E during firefighting operations in Victoria, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) noted that

each crewmember recalled the rehearsed drills from their helicopter underwater escape training (HUET). They identified their seat belt and nearest exit to orientate themselves in the aircraft. They all waited until the last moment to draw a breath, and did not unbuckle and exit the helicopter until [its] motion had ceased. The crew reported that it was not possible to see anything underwater, and that jet fuel contamination was present…. HUET enabled the crew to act rationally and decisively when submerged in the cockpit and to use the regularly-practiced drills to escape the aircraft.

The report also credits the provision of a helmet cord-release mechanism with facilitating their escape, as 

neither pilot unplugged their helmet. However, the extension cords from the aircraft to the helmet plug allowed the plug to release, preventing the helmets from snaring the pilots.

Both pilots and the crew chief in the rear-facing aft-stick seat were able to inflate their life jackets, reach shore under their own power, and hike through “dense bush” to a road, where they were rescued.

The Aircraft and Crew

Built by Sikorsky as an S-64 in 1969, the accident aircraft had been upgraded to an S-64E Aircrane. Subsequently operated by Erickson Inc. and registered as N173AC, it boasted two 4,500–shaft horsepower Pratt & Whitney engines and had been fitted with a 2,650-gallon water tank and flexible pond snorkel for water-bombing missions. The snorkel’s dedicated high-pressure pump could fill the tank in about 30 seconds, requiring only about a 45-second hover. Erickson’s website advertises that the S-64E can drop up to 25,000 gallons per hour from a dip site suitably close to the drop site.

Describing the crew as experienced would be a substantial understatement. The more senior of the two pilots had flown helicopters for 44 years, including 20 years operating the S-64 and 20 years fighting fires in Australia. On the accident flight, he was serving as ­second-in-command (SIC), the pilots having switched positions at the end of every two-hour duty cycle. The pilot-in-command (PIC) had 18 years of helicopter experience, 4 of them in the S-64, and the crew chief’s 34 years as a helicopter engineer included 26 “maintaining and developing the S-64.”

Read More: Recent Accidents & Incidents
August 15, 2020

The rotorcraft accidents and incidents listed below occurred between Apr. 1 and Jun. 30, 2020. The accident details shown below are preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. All information was obtained through the official websites listed below, where you can learn more details about each event.

Australia – Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB)
Britain – Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB)
Canada – Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSBC)
New Zealand – Transport Accident Investigation Commission of New Zealand (TAIC)
United States – National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)

April 2020

Robinson R22
Seymour, TX, USA
Apr. 6, 2020 | NTSB CEN20CA144
0 injuries, 0 fatalities | Agricultural flight
Helicopter sustained substantial damage after tail rotor struck tree branch during agricultural operation.

Robinson R44
Hillsboro, OR, USA
Apr. 6, 2020 | NTSB WPR20LA119
0 injuries, 0 fatalities | Personal flight
Helicopter sustained substantial damage after loss of engine power and autorotation to paved taxiway.

Aérospatiale SA 341
Fort Myers, FL, USA
Apr. 9, 2020 | NTSB ERA20CA181
0 injuries, 0 fatalities | General aviation flight
Helicopter sustained substantial damage consistent with hard landing.

Garlick UH-1H
Curepto, Chile
Apr. 20, 2020 | NTSB ERA20WA154
0 injuries, 1 fatality | Flight type unknown
No description available.

Sikorsky S-61
Camp Dwyer, Afghanistan
Apr. 20, 2020 | NTSB DCA20LA100
3 injuries, 0 fatalities | Air taxi flight
Helicopter experienced loss of control in flight and rolled onto its side during emergency landing.

Bell 206L-1
Moa Island, Queensland, Australia
Apr. 22, 2020 | ATSB AO-2020-023
3 injuries, 0 fatalities | Commercial flight
Helicopter sustained substantial damage after impacting terrain for undetermined reasons.

Robinson R22
Caldwell, ID, USA
Apr. 22, 2020 | NTSB WPR20CA140
0 injuries, 0 fatalities | Instructional flight
Helicopter experienced hard landing during autorotation training.

Bell UH-1H
Mesa, AZ, USA
Apr. 24, 2020 | NTSB WPR20LA130
1 injuries, 1 fatality | General aviation flight
Helicopter impacted terrain after in-flight separation of tail rotor and loss of control.

Hughes 369
Pylesville, MD, USA
Apr. 25, 2020 | NTSB ERA20LA160
0 injuries, 0 fatalities | External load flight
Helicopter sustained substantial damage after loss of engine power and an autorotative landing and rollover.

May 2020

MD Helicopters MD 369E
Houston, TX, USA
May 2, 2020 | NTSB CEN20LA167
1 injury, 1 fatality | Search-and-rescue flight
Helicopter impacted building and terrain during evening search-and-rescue mission.

Bell UH-1N
Baghdad, Iraq
May 10, 2020 | NTSB ERA20CA191
Injuries unknown, fatalities unknown | Flight type unknown
No description available.

Bell OH-58C
Livingston, NY, USA
May 14, 2020 | NTSB ERA20CA184
0 injuries, 0 fatalities | Personal flight
Helicopter struck a tree and impacted terrain while performing nighttime low-altitude maneuvers.

RotorWay Exec
Rochester, IN, USA
May 16, 2020 | NTSB CEN20CA180
1 injury, 0 fatalities | Personal flight
Helicopter experienced loss of control in flight, resulting in dynamic rollover and main rotor damage.

Bell OH-58A
West Branch, MI, USA
May 20, 2020 | NTSB CEN20LA187
0 injuries, 0 fatalities | Personal flight
Helicopter sustained substantial damage during precautionary autorotative landing.

Bell 206
Elko, NV, USA
May 30, 2020 | NTSB WPR20CA162
0 injuries, 0 fatalities | General aviation flight
Helicopter struck a fence, impacted terrain, and rolled over following loss of control in flight.

Schweizer 269C-1
Ozark, AL, USA
May 30, 2020 | NTSB ERA20LA197
0 injuries, 1 fatality | Instructional flight
Helicopter lost power for undetermined reasons, impacted terrain, and was destroyed.

June 2020

Bell 206
Fairfield, CA, USA
Jun. 2, 2020 | NTSB WPR20LA163
0 injuries, 3 fatalities | External load flight
During human external cargo operation, helicopter struck a power line, impacted terrain, and rolled downhill.

Enstrom 480
Murphy, ID, USA
Jun. 4, 2020 | NTSB WPR20CA171
Injuries unknown, fatalities unknown | Agricultural flight
No description available.

Bell 47G
Atoka, TN, USA
Jun. 14, 2020 | NTSB ERA20LA216
0 injuries, 0 fatalities | Personal flight
Helicopter sustained substantial damage following total loss of engine power and autorotative landing.

Robinson R22
El Campo, TX, USA
Jun. 16, 2020 | NTSB CEN20CA230
0 injuries, 0 fatalities | Agricultural flight
Helicopter impacted terrain during low-altitude aerial application.

Bell 206
Gauteng, South Africa
Jun. 17, 2020 | NTSB WPR20WA186
0 injuries, 2 fatalities | General aviation flight
No description available.

Robinson R66
Pikeville, NC, USA
Jun. 18, 2020 | NTSB ERA20LA220
0 injuries, 1 fatality | Agricultural flight
Helicopter struck nonenergized wire and impacted terrain during low-altitude aerial application.

Leonardo AW139
Dayboro, Queensland, Australia
Jun. 20, 2020 | ATSB AO-2020-031
0 injuries, 0 fatalities | Air medical flight
Helicopter sustained substantial damage when its main rotor blades struck a tree during winching operations.

Schweizer 269C
Sheffield, TX, USA
Jun. 21, 2020 | NTSB CEN20CA240
0 injuries, 0 fatalities | Aerial observation flight
Helicopter sustained substantial damage after striking a fence and impacting terrain during low-altitude inspection flight.

Bell 407
Long Marston, England
Jun. 24, 2020 | NTSB CEN20WA246
0 injuries, 0 fatalities | Commercial flight
No description available.

Read More: WAI Scholarship Winner Diana Stearns
August 15, 2020

Award carries special meaning for first female aviator in her family.

Growing up in Frenchtown, Montana, Diana Stearns was intrigued by her mother’s career as an emergency room / air ambulance flight nurse. But it was a pivotal experience as a teenager that ultimately led her to pursue a job in aviation.

During her junior year of high school, on a fluke Diana took an aviation class, where she discovered she enjoyed learning about engines and conducting simulator flights.

“I took the class because one of my friends wanted to take it, and I wanted to get out of chemistry,” recalls the 2020 ­winner of the HAI Foundation–­sponsored Women in Aviation International (WAI) Maintenance Technician Certificate Scholarship. “My friend ended up hating it, but I absolutely loved it and kept going from there. At the end of the class, a private pilot who flew in the area offered to give us a ride, and I knew that was the career for me.”

Diana graduated from high school in May 2016 and started flight lessons, obtaining her private pilot’s license that December.

After graduation, Diana was determined to find meaningful work that combined compassionate missions with aviation. As she researched potential employers, she noticed a common theme: the organizations preferred their pilots to be aircraft maintenance technicians (AMTs), as well.

Read More: Meet Samantha Bean
August 15, 2020

Samantha Bean

Ansbach, Germany

Current job: Boeing AH-64 Apache Longbow
system repairman

First aviation job: Bell OH-58D(R) Kiowa Warrior
system repairman

Favorite helicopter: Bell OH-58D(R) Kiowa Warrior

How did you decide helicopter aviation was the career for you?
I enlisted in the aviation field of the US Army with little to no knowledge of helicopters. However, the moment I saw an aircraft that I had worked on take off and return successfully, I knew being a helicopter technician was for me.

Who’s inspired you?
There were a couple of maintenance test pilots in the OH-58D(R) community that I looked up to. Although they were aviators, they assisted with what they could on the maintenance side and would stay past their regular work hours to learn more about the helicopter systems. They strove to be more knowledgeable about the aircraft they flew.