What Is a Helicopter Accident?

Helicopter accidents are common. The United States Helicopter Safety Team (USHST) reports there were 96 helicopter accidents in the U.S., 17 of them fatal in 2021. (1) There were a total of 122 helicopter accidents, 24 of them fatal, in 2019 according to AirMed&Rescue. (2)

Since 2004, there have been at least 9 helicopter crashes in New York City (NYC) alone. According to the Associated Press, “At least 32 people have died in helicopter accidents in New York City since 1977.” (3)

Helicopters are aircraft. “A helicopter is a type of aircraft that uses rotating, or spinning, wings called blades to fly… A helicopter’s rotating blades, or a rotor, allow it to do things an airplane cannot.” (4)

Any accident involving an aircraft is “an occurrence associated with the operation of an aircraft which takes place between the time any person boards the aircraft with the intention of flight and all such persons have disembarked, and in which any person suffers death or serious injury, or in which the aircraft receives substantial damage.” (5)

Causes of Helicopter Accidents

Knowing what constitutes a helicopter accident also raises the question of what causes these accidents in the first place.

Helicopter accidents may be caused by a number of things. Here are some of the most common:

Operational Pilot Error

The most frequent factor in helicopter accidents is pilot error, says aviation training provider Pilot Institute. Pilots may be fatigued, under extreme pressure, or dealing with complicated equipment. Their work is intensive, requiring tremendous amounts of information processing. (6)

“There are reasons why the pilot error is even more likely in a helicopter than in an airplane. Firstly, most helicopters require more hands-on flying than fixed-wing aircraft,” points out Pilot Institute. (7)

Mechanical Malfunction

Most helicopter crews fear mechanical failure, “because of its potential severity…the failure of a key helicopter component such as the rotor and rotor shaft, main gearbox, or tail rotor often proves fatal. In no other type of flying machine is so much stress placed on single components.” (8)

Electrical Malfunction

Crashes can happen if an electrical malfunction occurs while in the air. “More and more operations in today’s flight environment are dependent on the aircraft’s electrical system,” indicates an aviation education website. “On small, piston powered helicopters, electrical energy is supplied by an engine-driven alternator by means of a belt and pulley system similar to that of an automobile.” (9)

Environmental Factors

Another common reason for why helicopters crash is “Flying in snow, rain, sleet, fog, or any other scenario where visibility is impaired… Other environmental factors include bird strikes, which are more likely to happen in a helicopter than in an airplane due to the fact that helicopters are so often flying at lower altitudes.” (10)

If you have suffered injury from a helicopter accident, contact us today for a free case review.

Get a Free Case Review

Injuries and Deceleration

Helicopter crashes can result in severe, life-threatening injuries. Injuries sustained during a crash depend upon the deceleration you are subjected to during the crash. (11)

“The commonest cause of injury in aircraft accidents is the sudden deceleration that occurs when an aircraft hits the ground or water.” (12) Deceleration forces vary and are measured as g-force. G-force is a measure of acceleration on your body due to gravity.

“Human tolerance to deceleration depends upon a number of factors including the duration, magnitude and direction of the inertial forces…The direction of forces is a major determinant of tolerance.” (13)

These are examples of the decelerative forces needed to produce specific injury results: (14)

  • Aorta, intimal tear — 50G.
  • Aorta, transection — 80-100G.
  • Fracture dislocation of C1 on C2 — 20-40G.
  • Mandible, fracture — 40G.
  • Maxilla, fracture — 50G.
  • Nose, fracture — 30G.
  • Pelvis, fracture — 100-200G.
  • Total body, fragmentation — >350G.
  • Vertebral body, compression — 20-30G.
  • Vertebral body, transection — 200-300G.

Injuries are often the result of coming into contact with the aircraft structure or equipment. They include entrapment, fire, drowning, and traumatic asphyxia, among others. (15)

Specific Injuries from Aircraft Accidents

The long list of specific injuries you can get in an aircraft accident includes:

  • Death — According to one report assessing injury patterns in fatal aircraft crashes, “The majority of victims die from more than one fatal injury and injuries which on their own may not be life threatening may be significant when combined with other injuries.” (16)
  • Bone fractures — “Only 20% of fatalities from aviation accidents escape limb fracture, 73.6% having leg fractures and 56.6% having arm fractures. 64.5% of all fatalities had fractures of the lower leg and 52.6% had fractures of the femur.” (17)
  • Burns — “Fire occurs in 47 per cent of commercial aircraft accidents, 32 per cent of military accidents and 26 per cent of general aviation crashes.” (18)
  • Spinal cord injuries and paralysis — “Spinal fractures are present in 45% of intact aircraft accident fatalities… In all categories of flying the thoracic spine was the most frequently fractured. This occurred in 29% of all cases. In 10% of our cases there were fractures involving only the cervical spine.” (19) Spinal cord damage can result in paralysis. (20)
  • Traumatic brain injuries — These are brain injuries from sudden trauma, such as a blow to the head in a crash. “A head injury is a broad term that describes a vast array of injuries that occur to the scalp, skull, brain, and underlying tissue and blood vessels in the head.” (21) In helicopter crashes, skull fractures are often a cause of death. In 17.1% of helicopter fatalities the “base alone” was fractured. (22)
  • Internal brain injuries — Common types of internal brain injury include concussions and intracranial hematomas (blood clots in or around the brain). Bruising and internal damage to the brain can also occur. (23)
  • Blunt force trauma — In aviation crashes, blunt force trauma is sustained on impact by accident victims. It can also occur when “Items of equipment within the cabin, which are not adequately secured, may break free in a crash and cause injury by secondary impact with the occupants.” Injuries frequently are thoracic and abdominal. Thorax injuries occur in 80% of cases. These injuries cause cardiovascular system trauma; 47.6% had a ruptured heart and 35% also had a ruptured aorta. “More than two thirds of the fatalities had abdominal injury… The solid abdominal organs were frequently ruptured.” There were ruptures of the liver and spleen in 42.3% of cases and kidneys in 23.5%. (24)
  • Lacerations and scarring — Collapse of a helicopter’s structure can result in lacerations. (25) Lacerations or tears in the skin can occur whenever an individual comes into contact with objects during a crash. For example, lacerations on the palms and soles of helicopter operators may be a result of efforts to control the aircraft. (26) Deep lacerations can result in scarring; likewise, burns may leave scars.

Who Is Responsible for a Helicopter Accident?

A lawsuit can help you get compensation from the people and companies responsible for the helicopter accident. The owners of the helicopter, the manufacturer of the helicopter or any of its components, and the operator of the aircraft may all be held accountable.

In such cases, you must show the court the why the crash happened. You need to prove it was the result of a defect in the aircraft design or in one of its components. Or it was due to a mechanical failure, or pilot error was involved.

Crash Examples

For example, you were injured in a crash because the pilot failed to complete all required safety checks before takeoff. If you can show the court documentation — or have witness testimony to support your claim — you could prove negligence.

Another example might be to show the court the crash was caused by a malfunction in the electrical system of the helicopter. Or the rotor blades of the helicopter failed to rotate at the proper speed.

If you can prove this claim to the court, the manufacturers involved can be held liable for damages. Also, if a manufacturer knew about — but failed to correct — a defect in the design of the aircraft, the manufacturer may be held liable.

If you or a loved one suffered injury or death from a helicopter accident, contact us today to know your legal rights.

Get a Free Case Review

Filing a Helicopter Accident Lawsuit

Helicopter accident cases can be very complicated. Relying on the knowledge of an attorney who has handled many personal injury cases can help deliver a successful outcome in court.

An attorney helps you hold all responsible parties accountable by filing a lawsuit. In your NYC lawsuit, you are bringing the suit and are referred to as the “plaintiff,” while the party being sued is called the “defendant.” Your attorney files the requisite “summons and complaint” with the proper court.

Any required fees must be paid at the time of filing the lawsuit. One of the responsibilities of an experienced attorney is ensuring the rules regarding where to file your lawsuit have been met. (27)

After filing the summons and complaint, it must be “served” on the defendants. The defendants then have 30 days to “answer” the summons. When the defendants have answered the summons, a court date is set. (28)

Possible Settlements

In the meantime, both parties investigate the case and gather evidence. Each side in your lawsuit does the research necessary to present the case in a courtroom.

Instead of going to trial, many lawsuits end up settling out of court. So, experience with negotiating settlements becomes a key consideration in hiring an attorney. An attorney who has done this many times before can usually obtain a more favorable settlement for you.

How W&L Can Help

Weitz & Luxenberg has built a solid reputation for representing our client interests — both in court and at settlement. Here are some of our successes:

  • Six-figure settlement in airline luggage case. W&L negotiated the settlement after a woman passenger was struck by luggage falling out of an overhead bin while on an international flight.
  • $10 million in compensation obtained for a teen victim blinded in one eye in a bungee cord accident. The bungee cord brake system was negligently designed and too short.
  • $20.5 million verdict plus $3 million in past and future medical expenses was awarded. The case was for a man left paralyzed for life from a hit-and-run car accident.