At this time I'm hearing 7 dead and 3 injured. A daylight Mid-air collision? What in the world is going on?
Now we're hearing there are 6 dead. One of the flight nurses is alive but critically injured. Two folks that were on the ground trying to help were hurt when something on one of the helicopters exploded. All this is gleaned from News reports and, like the initial report of 7 dead, should be taken with a grain of salt.
But the question remains... how does this happen?
I'm always claustrophobic when I get into an airplane. How in Hell can you be safe in something going that fast if you cannot see out of it?!! I'm just amazed when I climb into the cockpit of an airliner and see the tiny windows on those things... an airplane designed to go 600 miles an hour or so. It's a credit to all airplane pilots we don't have more airplane to airplane Mid-air collisions than we do!
Most are designed to be like sitting on your front porch while your front porch is zipping along at 1500 feet of altitude. And in a helicopter, you have the added benefit of being able to see THROUGH THE WING! Most even have little "chin bubble" windows in the floor to look through! We chopper folks can see almost everywhere out of our machines!
So how do two helicopters find a way to collide, during daylight hours, in Flagstaff, AZ. where the visibility was probably 200 miles?
It's mind boggling.
Let me try to suggest a scenario:
I don't think they were headed back to the hospital from the same scene... they'd have been aware of, and looking out for one another if that were the case. So here you have two helicopter pilots headed to the hospital in Flagstaff, both thinking they are the only flying thing around for several miles, totally unconcerned about watching out for one another. They are from different helicopter EMS services, so they aren't talking to the same dispatchers. In the middle of Northern Arizona they likely weren't talking on a common "Unicom" frequency announcing their position to other helicopters, 'cause they didn't think anyone else was out there. Does the hospital in Flagstaff answer their radio when called? If it becomes generally recognized a hospital won't answer you when called, my crews will forego that call if they have their hands full caring for a patient.
Then add to this that med-crew eyes were all inside the aircraft doing patient care, and what do you have? Two sets of eyes looking outside the aircraft... the two pilots. That's fine if they are truly looking, which they obviously would have been if they both knew the other aircraft was out there somewhere. I don't think they knew to look.
I've been flying EMS since 1986. There was explosive growth in the industry in 1987, and we, as an industry, had a horrific year accident-wise. Pilots just starting to do a job they were unsure of, some flying unfamiliar equipment, many flying at night without much night familiarity, and competition with other companies suggesting flight in unsuitable weather conditions. 1987 was a terrible year with lots of fatalities. This year is shaping up to be worse.
So what's the solution?
Let me make you a wager...
The FAA is gonna feel pressure to do SOMETHING. And one of the things they'll consider is a device called a "Collision avoidance system". It's another neat electronic instrument to warn pilots of impending danger, and in some situations it has value. But it's another thing that distracts the pilot's attention and forces him to look INSIDE the cockpit rather than OUTSIDE where he should be looking to avoid another whirling set of rotor blades.
I think the emphasis should be on more communication, and more "head on a swivel" outside the cockpit surveying.
So now we wait for information on the "links of the chain"... those things that had to align for this accident to happen. Then we'll wait and see what remedial action is suggested/forced upon operators to try to avoid something similar in the future.
I'm gettin' old.
I've seen too much of this.
My heart aches.
A good report of the accident here.