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Helicopter external load traumatic injuries - epidemiology and prevention.

Manwaring JC; Conway GA; Garrett LD
NOIRS 1997 Abstracts of the National Occupational Injury Research Symposium 1997. Washington, DC: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 1997 Oct; :34-35
Helicopter external lift load operations are gaining wide acceptance as an alternative to conventional surface heavy lift and transportation. Such operations, however, are not without their hazards. Helicopter external load operations, such as helicopter logging, can be demanding on helicopters and the pilots who fly them. The potential for machine failure and human error has lead to tragic results. Helicopter external load operations have been associated with a large number of helicopter crashes resulting in serious traumatic injuries. There were 230 helicopter external load accidents in the United States investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) from 1980 to 1995. These accidents resulted in 57 fatalities and 74 serious non-fatal injuries. Of the 230 accidents, 44 (19%) resulted in one or more fatalities. There was a mean of 0.25 fatalities per accident, and a mean accident pilot fatality rate of 14% (40 pilot fatalities out of 276 pilots involved in 230 accidents). Of the 230 accident reports, 190 (83%) noted a flight purpose. Of these 190 events, 65 (34%) occurred during heli- logging operations. These 65 events resulted in 26 (46%) of all fatalities, and 30 (41%) of the 74 serious non-fatal injuries. Construction-related external load accidents accounted for 42 (22%) of the 190 accidents. These accidents resulted in 10 (18%) of the fatalities, and 16 (22%) of the serious non-fatal injuries. The rest of the accidents (83 in number or 44%) involved miscellaneous cargo operations (19%), power line operations (8%), christmas tree operations (6%), seismic operations (6%), fire control operations (3%), and agricultural operations (2%). These 83 accidents (44%) accounted for 21 (37%) of all fatalities, and 28 (38%) of the 74 serious non-fatal injuries. According to the NTSB who assigned "primary probable cause" to all 230 accidents, pilot error accounted for 44% (n=102), mechanical failures accounted for 38% (n=88), and maintenance accounted for 10% (n=23) of the accidents. A vast difference in primary probable cause was noted between helilogging and non-heli- logging accidents. For heli-logging, the primary probable causes were mechanical failure (63%), pilot error (29%), undetermined (5%), and maintenance (3%). For non- helilogging operations, the primary probable causes were pilot error (50%), mechanical error (28%), maintenance (13%), and undetermined (8%). The risks associated with these probable causes can be minimized by adherence to existing regulations and manufacturer recommendations, improved training, and more frequent and intensive helicopter maintenance. Recent experience in Alaska has shown that following these recommendations can make helicopter external load operations safer, thereby dramatically reducing the number of crashes and injuries.
Traumatic-injuries; Epidemiology; Injuries; Injury-prevention; Hazards; Occupational-hazards; Pilots; Logging-workers; Occupational-accidents; Mortality-data; Mortality-rates; Accident-analysis; Accident-statistics; Accident-rates; Accident-prevention; Risk-analysis; Risk-factors; Training; Safety-measures
Publication Date
Document Type
Conference/Symposia Proceedings; Abstract
Fiscal Year
NIOSH Division
Source Name
NOIRS 1997 Abstracts of the National Occupational Injury Research Symposium
Page last reviewed: May 11, 2023
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division