He­li­copter pilot (72) dis­tracted by phone

The Irish Times - - Home News - JACK POWER

A 72-year-old he­li­copter pilot was mo­men­tar­ily dis­tracted when his mo­bile phone rang dur­ing a land­ing in which the air­craft rolled over caus­ing “sig­nif­i­cant” dam­age, an Air Ac­ci­dent In­ves­ti­ga­tion Unit (AAIU) re­port has found.

The pilot was the only per­son in the he­li­copter at the time, and was car­ry­ing out a prac­tice ex­er­cise on Car­ra­hane Strand beach, Co Kerry, in July this year.

Dur­ing the land­ing the pilot’s mo­bile phone rang, and “he glanced at the tele­phone which was mounted on a bracket be­side the in­stru­ment panel in or­der to iden­tify the caller”, the re­port said.

At the same time a gust of wind hit the right hand side of the he­li­copter, caus­ing it to roll on to its left-hand side into the sand, “caus­ing sig­nif­i­cant dam­age” to the air­craft, the re­port said. The pilot ex­ited the he­li­copter from the right hand side door, and was not in­jured in the in­ci­dent.

The safety in­ves­ti­ga­tion was launched fol­low­ing a re­port of the in­ci­dent given to the AAIU by the pilot. The “ac­ci­dent se­quence was over in an in­stant,” the pilot told in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

Nav­i­ga­tion

“The pilot in­formed the in­ves­ti­ga­tion that his mo­bile tele­phone con­tained soft­ware for nav­i­ga­tion and flight plan­ning, but that he would never use it for com­mu­ni­ca­tions dur­ing flight,” the re­port said.

“The land­ing sur­face was soft, wet, sand. The skids of the he­li­copter had touched down lightly prior to it rolling over on to its left-hand side.”

The pilot had 749 hours fly­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, and the he­li­copter was man­u­fac­tured in 1990.

The in­ci­dent oc­curred on the wet sand of the beach, and the he­li­copters ro­tor blades had be cut off to fa­cil­i­tate its re­cov­ery. The pilot or­gan­ised the re­cov­ery of the air­craft be­fore no­ti­fy­ing the AAIU of the in­ci­dent, as there was a fear the in­com­ing tide “could have led to the to­tal loss of the he­li­copter”, the re­port said.

Two air ac­ci­dent in­spec­tors vis­it­ing the site of the in­ci­dent, and in­ter­viewed the pilot for the re­port, which was pub­lished yesterday.

The he­li­copter’s tail ro­tor and mast, ro­tor gear­box, and ver­ti­cal and hor­i­zon­tal sta­bilis­ers were dam­aged in the in­ci­dent, and the re­port said it was likely the en­gine also suf­fered dam­age.

The pilot had a pri­vate pilot li­cence to fly a he­li­copter, is­sued by the United States Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion in 2004. The pilot had logged 27 hours fly­ing in the three months be­fore the in­ci­dent.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tors said it was com­mon now for pi­lots to carry mo­bile phones, tablets, or GPS de­vices with them in the cock­pit.

“All of which may pro­vide use­ful func­tions, but are also a po­ten­tial source of dis­trac­tion,” the re­port warned.

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