The Worst Helicopter Crashes in History

Helicopters are used in civil aviation, commercial film-making and more recently in reality TV show filming around the world. The speed and flexibility of flights with helicopters is unable to be replicated with conventional fixed wing aircraft.

Helicopters come in many different designs but the majority have a larger horizontal rotor blade above the main cabin, and a second rotor blade near the back of the helicopter pointing vertically which acts as a counteracting force to help the chopper both stay in the air and change direction. The loss of the use of either one of these blades renders the helicopter unable to continue flight and requires an emergency landing to prevent catastrophe.

Here is a small example of bad helicopter crashes over the years.

Manheim AirShow, 1982

The Mannheim airshow in Germany saw the crash of a United States Army Chinook on 11 September 1982. A ground walnut shell grit was used to clean the machinery which was later discovered to have built up and eventually blocked the necessary lubrication from getting to the transmission bearings. Subsequently walnut grit was discontinued for cleaning purposes. 46 people, including many parachutists, were killed in the crash.

British Airways Helicopter, Celtic Sea, 1983

British Airways Helicopters’ commercial division operated a Sikorsky S-61 helicopter which was traveling between Penzance and St Mary’s in the Isle of Scilly. The helicopter crashed into the south Celtic Sea with the loss of 20 of the 26 passengers. A review of helicopter safety was carried out following the crash which happened during a foggy weather conditions in low visibility.

British International Helicopters, Shetland Islands, 1986

A British International Helicopters Chinook helicopter was on approach to the Sumburgh Airport on the Shetland Islands when it crashed with the subsequent loss of 45 lives. North Sea flights using the Chinook to ferry crew back and forth was later withdrawn.

US Marines, Mesa Verde, 2014

A Super Stallion helicopter (CH-53E) was lost in the Gulf of Aden on September 1, 2014 when attempting to land on the USS Mesa Verde in Djibouti. The Mesa Verde is an amphibious vessel with a large helicopter landing pad. The $47.8m Super Stallion chopper’s rotor clipped the side of the flight deck when the chopper dropped precipitously just before attempting to land. With 25 personnel on-board, the Super Stallion reached the ocean sending passengers flying around inside the cabin.

Through the quick actions of the crew and passengers, along with the launching of small, inflatable boats from the USS Mesa Verde, all 25 personnel were able to be saved. However, the issue with the Super Stallion and its number two engine (of the three it possesses) had been causing repeated problems over the model’s use which the pilots were very well aware of.

The passengers and crew were lucky this time, but a similar Sea Dragon MH-53E helicopter in Virginia USA crashed with the loss of three lives believed to have been caused by chafing of insulation between the electrical wiring and fuel tubing. Subsequently, the US military have carried out inspections of all their Sea Dragon and Super Stallion helicopters to resolve this same issue. The US military has experienced four accidents with these almost identical helicopters in just the last two years.

Many Different Causes of Helicopter Crashes

Most flights in helicopters are completed without incident. However, whether because of mechanical failure, poor servicing, pilot error, poor weather conditions, or bird strikes, when a problem occurs with a helicopter, the risks increase dramatically for the passengers. For this reason, anyone who will be flying in a helicopter on a regular basis may do well to consider making note of the details of a good helicopter injury attorney like Slack & Davis just in case they are involved in an accident.


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