I just learned that on Saturday a tour helicopter flown by an operator out of Las Vegas, Nevada, crashed in the Grand Canyon West area around 5:30 pm. Local news outlets were reporting fatalities and critical injuries. And as usual, images of the crash are floating around the Internet, and a lot of people are commenting on the crash.
With that, I believe that it’s time to remind everyone of a few guidelines we should all follow after a tragedy like this:
- Don’t Play Armchair Quarterback: When it comes to events like this, you are NOT the FAA or NTSB (and if you are, then you already know this). Therefore, anything that is spread on social media about accidents without facts is disrespectful to the victims and the survivors and can be taken as gospel by those not as savvy in aviation as we are. (If you’re a professional pilot, or even if you’re not, you should always be careful of what you say online to keep from having the FAA or the NTSB pay you a call.)
- Respect the Process: Commercial operators have rules that their personnel must comply with. No one is stalling. When the time is right, and the proper steps have been accomplished, either a press release or statement will be sent out that will give more details. This may or may not come directly from the company, but can also be from the FAA or NTSB field representative, both of whom have their processes in place for disseminating information about a crash.
- Hug Your Loved Ones: As humans, none of us are impervious to the environment. What we do in aviation has risk. As aviators, we do the best we can to mitigate those risks (by following checklists, company policies, etc.). The mechanics who work on our aircraft also have processes in place to help mitigate risk, and the company operating the aircraft rely on these processes to reduce risk—BUT RISK WILL NEVER BE ZERO. There will always be an unknown variable out there that negates the steps taken to reduce risk, but we chose to face that fact knowingly and relying on ourselves, and others should that variable ever be discovered. Our families pray that our training will keep us out of harm’s way or help us escape should be have a brush with disaster, so we all get to come home safely at night.
- Learn from This: I have said time and time again, once the NTSB finding are out, take time to read the report, take notes of key findings, and do what you can to learn from accident investigations. As many of you know, the FARs are mostly written up based on the results of accident investigations. Although few accidents result in a new FAR, it’s important to learn from what results are presented, and perhaps make changes to the way you or your company fly so you can mitigate even more risk.
Because the authorities can take months or years to complete their investigation, it’s important for us all to support the families, friends, and fellow aviators from the beginning. We also need to respect the families’ privacy and give them time to process what has happened as they go through grief and into a long healing process that can never undo what has happened to them. May those affected by this accident (and every other one) be forever in our thoughts.
Rich Snelling is an Emergency Medical helicopter pilot in the southwest U.S. with experience in both rotorcraft and fixed wing aircraft. A former Electronic News Gathering and tour pilot, Rich is an active CFI.