Snowdonia Helicopter Crash - Aviation Expert Expresses Concerns at the Continuing Series of Helicopter Accidents

Aviation Lawyer and former RAF pilot says the number of twin engine helicopter accidents in the UK is very worrying, and calls for a rule change to require that these helicopters be fitted "Black Box" flight recording equipment.

On Wednesday 29 March 2017, a privately owned Airbus Helicopters twin engine AS355 (Twin Squirrel) helicopter left Milton Keynes to fly to Dublin, via Caernarfon Bay, but was reported missing that afternoon after the helicopter failed to arrive at the destination. On Thursday 30 March, the helicopter wreckage was found in the Rhinog mountain range near Trawsfynydd in Snowdonia. It is reported that the area where the helicopter crashed is on a steep slope around 2,300 feet above sea level.

Sadly all five persons on board were killed, including the owner of the helicopter, Kevin Burke and his wife, Ruth Burke.

The remains of the helicopter have been recovered by specialist officers, and an investigation into the cause of the crash, led by the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB), is now underway.

Jim Morris, Head of Aviation at Ashfords LLP and former RAF pilot, specialises in representing the victims of air accidents and has acted in numerous helicopter  accidents, including the CHC Airbus Helicopters ditching into the North Sea in 2012, the CHC Airbus Helicopters crash into the North Sea in 2013 and the Bond Police Airbus Helicopters crash into Glasgow in 2013. In addition, during his flying career in the RAF Jim flew a fast jet aircraft from a RAF base in North Wales and on many occasions flew low level through the mountain ranges of Snowdonia, so is very familiar with the piloting and weather challenges of this mountainous terrain.

Jim commented: "Over recent years there has been a series of twin engine helicopter crashes in the UK with causes including gearbox problems, human factors and fuel starvation. This further loss of a twin engine Airbus Helicopters aircraft is extremely concerning. It is crucial that the air accident investigators quickly identify the full chain of events so that lessons can be learned.

"However, they are faced with the situation where the helicopter that crashed in Snowdonia was not required to be fitted with Flight Date Recording (FDR) or Cockpit Voice Recording (CVR) "Black Box" equipment. This equipment provides crucial real time evidence to assist the investigators and the absence of this equipment can result delays to the publication of accident reports which may not be able to provide the answers that are needed."

This was the case in the Police helicopter crash into Glasgow on 29 November 2013, where Jim represented injured ground victims and the families of ground victims who were killed. Although the accident involved a modern twin engine Airbus Helicopters EC135, under the applicable rules, the helicopter was below the weight above which helicopters were required to be fitted with “black box” equipment. This meant that the preliminary and final accident reports were not able to identify the full chain of events that caused the tragedy.

Jim states: "It is over 3 years since the crash in Glasgow and there is again the situation where the investigators may face a much more difficult task, as the Snowdonia crash helicopter did not have to be fitted with the black box equipment. Although it is reported that the helicopter may have been fitted with some form of electronic recording device, it is not yet known if there is such a device or the extend of the data that would be captured by such a device. As a result of the Police Helicopter tragedy in Glasgow, in December 2016 the Civil Aviation Authority(CAA) issued a Safety Directive requiring Police and Search and Rescue helicopters of certain weights be fitted with airborne image recording systems of a type specified by the CAA. In light of this Snowdonia crash involving a twin engine helicopter that can carry 5 passengers, the CAA should again review the rules and consider amending them to require all twin engine helicopters to be fitted with specified airborne image recording systems."

"It is to be hoped that some form of electronic recording device was fitted to the Snowdonia crash helicopter and that, combined with the examination of the wreckage, the air accident investigators will be able to promptly determine the causes of this accident. Key factors that they will consider will include the flight plan, why the helicopter flew in the mountain range below the height of the mountains, how weather affected the flight and whether human factors and/or technical factors contributed to the accident."

"At the location of the accident the helicopter was flying through very challenging terrain that requires specialist training - it is crucial to determine why it was in that location at the low height of 2,300 feet to help prevent similar tragedies in the future."

"This is a devastating accident and our thoughts are with all of the family."

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