Helicopter crashes prompt changes

Posted: Monday, June 12, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- Helicopter crashes near Juneau last year have prompted flightseeing operators to spend more effort preparing pilots for tricky weather conditions, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

A weather condition known as flat lighting was a factor in four accidents last year, including the fatal crash of a Coastal Helicopter sightseeing flight on Herbert Glacier that killed all seven people aboard.

The other three crashes all happened on a single gray day in September. After a Temsco Helicopters sightseeing tour went down on the Juneau Icefield, two more of the company's aircraft crashed on a rescue mission. Nobody was seriously injured.

Temsco has voluntarily adopted five operational and training changes since, NTSB investigator Clint Johnson told KTOO radio in Juneau.

''All five items standing alone may not do it, but our goal is to avoid another accident,'' Johnson said, adding that the most important precaution is avoiding flying in flat lighting conditions. ''Avoidance is first and foremost.''

Bob Hicks, Temsco's director of operations, said his pilots discussed flying in poor lighting conditions after the Coastal Helicopters crash. The Temsco pilot in the first September crash tried to apply those lessons.

''He kept the aircraft level and continued to slow down and look for the surface,'' Hicks said. ''Obviously the surface came up a little quicker than expected.''

The list of changes:

--Competency checks of the pilots' ability to navigate solely by instruments. None of the Temsco pilots had instrument ratings, said Joe Hicks, the company's director of operations.

-- Installation of radar altimeters in helicopters providing tours over snow-covered glacial terrain. Flat light can render such terrain almost featureless, and pilots have trouble judging their height above the snow.

--Relocation of electronic locator transmitters from the right baggage compartment to the passenger cabin area, relocation of the transmitter antenna from the tail to the nose of the helicopter, and the addition of a portable antenna in case the main antenna is damaged.

--Incorporate ''flat light'' conditions training into the annual pilot training.

--Provide hand-held radios for each helicopter in the event that the helicopter's radios are disabled.

A flightseeing industry safety groups -- Tour Operators Program for Safety -- is also emphasizing avoidance training.

Bob Englebret of Northstar Trekking said that in almost every case a pilot should be able to recognize deteriorating conditions and turn around before they get in trouble.



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