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Risks of helicopter winching?

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Risks of helicopter winching?

Old 31st Jul 2016, 09:16
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Risks of helicopter winching?

I notice that more and more in Australia people in distress are being winched into helicopters when they can often be very easily recovered by ground parties .

Isn't this a relatively risky operation?

Talking to a rescue helicopter pilot recently he told me that in many cases there is not single engine accountability in twin engined machines when winching.

Is this so?

I fully understand there are many times when there is not a less risky alternative.

If a patient , say with a fractured leg, or with very minor injuries, can be readily evacuated by a ground party why isn't a decision made to do this?

Last edited by Dick Smith; 31st Jul 2016 at 10:39.
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Old 31st Jul 2016, 09:54
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I can't comment on Australia specifically, Dick, but in general it's a case of a risk-analysis done by the aircrew and ground teams on-scene.

It may be that the casualty has only minor injuries (And I don't agree that a fractured leg necessarily constitutes a minor injury when you're outdoors) but a minor injury can very quickly become a serious issue when you are outdoors and exposed to extremes of the environment.

One also has to consider the extended risks involved. You suggest evacuating them with ground teams on a stretcher. All well and good but that implies that you have sufficient people to do that and time. It also places a different kind of risk onto the rescuers - as anyone who has ever carried a stretcher over even slightly rough terrain will tell you.

Time is also a factor - even if it does not directly affect the severity of the casualty's injury, the more time that the team have to spend dealing with him is more time that they have to spend in a potentially hazardous environment and less time that they are available for another incident. Sometimes just getting them out of there with the helicopter is the best thing to do.

At the same time you have to be sensible. As an example I'm reminded of a case a few years ago where a UKCG SAR crew decided not to winch a fisherman with a comparatively minor hand injury because they felt that the helicopter would have been very exposed in the event of a failure of any kind. They asked the vessel to steam towards land and went back later with less fuel and a greater power margin.

Yes there is a risk to everything but I'm not aware of a massive number of engine failure related accidents in the SAR community and as we see the introduction of newer machines with better single engine performance then this should become even less of an issue.

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Old 31st Jul 2016, 10:03
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From 45 years of using helicopters in various roles, I only ever did 1 winch rescue (of 4 people) in a twin, the rest were all in singles. And singles don't have OEI ability, as you know.

It is not always a case of life or death. Mostly it is just to reduce somebody's suffering, and to avoid sending a rescue party into a hazardous environment. A couple of times I have winched out a person who has suffered an injury, and then refused to lift out his companions. They were able to walk out in a few hours, if uncomfortably, but the risk of 3 more hoists under those conditions for people who were not injured was too high.

Very few twin rescue machines can stay in a hover on one engine at the weights they operate at.
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Old 31st Jul 2016, 10:27
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Look up winching accidents in Australia - there's been a few bad ones.

In my opinion it is taken a bit lighter than it should be.

Most winches on "singles" can ONLY be used in an emergency.

Consult the fine print - Bell 206 for example.
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Old 31st Jul 2016, 10:38
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Do other countries have fatal winch accidents like we have?

I remember meeting the young widow of a man who had been killed in a winch accident. Very sad.
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Old 31st Jul 2016, 10:45
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Ascend. You say very few twin engined machines can stay in the hover at typical operating weights when winching .What does the pilot then do if winching with a crew member and a patient on the winch and an engine failure?

And there is twice as much chance of an engine failure in a twin engined machine.
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Old 31st Jul 2016, 11:09
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The briefing is firstly to try to get the winch load into the aircraft.

If not, wait till they land on the ground as the helo descends, then cut the cable, so they don't roll down the hill with the chopper.

But look up the statistics of how many actual engine failures happen with a hoist load, compared to the myriad of other ways that it can go wrong, twin or not. Rotor strike, poke the tail into a tree, runaway hoist, cable snags on something, inadvertent cable cut, rescuee wriggles out of horse collar, stokes litter spins without a static line.

RVDT, the winch can also be used for training, not just for a real emergency.
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Old 31st Jul 2016, 11:21
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Dick, in addition to the good info from Ascend and Overthawk, the pilot can choose his operating height to ensure a flyaway option for the aircraft during the winching - this gives the winch operator the option of cutting the cable or winching in fast, depending on what stage the engine failure occurs.

Winching safely requires lots of good quality training and constant practice because, even without the issue of engine failure, poor technique can take a winching scenario from 'easy-peasy' to 'f**k-me' in a matter of seconds.
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Old 31st Jul 2016, 11:29
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As a former SAR pilot an example I can give you is a body recovery in a mountainous area. It was either send in a ground party of 6 100 metres down a steep decline, who would need several hours to complete the job, or 10 minutes with a crew of 4 on board of the helicopter to recover the remains and airlift the casualty to a landing site.

As a crew we felt it was the proper decision to use the helicopter. We might have been called out for a subsequent rescue of the recovery party anyway..
But they were some of the most tense 10 minutes of my life.
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Old 31st Jul 2016, 11:31
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there is a whole lot of risk analysis sitting behind most of these operations both from a down the wire people and the hopefully still flying crew. As has been stated try and find a twin that will fly on one engine and they are pretty rare at the weights usually found in OZ.

Single engine winching has a long and safe background in NSW with more than 800 training and real winches done in single engine per year. One particular " consultant" believes in twin winching only yet other agencies have a safe history over many years.

Keep in mind a stretcher carry over a long distance or a walk in can expose a number of people to risks of falls, trips etc.

Want to discuss winching with or without a ballistic cable cutter? That should chew up a few pages. Start with over land and over water.
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Old 31st Jul 2016, 11:33
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The assessment of whether a winch retrieval is merited or not goes much further than you seem to imply in your OP. An increase in the use of helicopters in such circumstances reflects the improved SE capability of Australia's current fleet of Ambulance/SAR helicopters, especially the AW139 with outstanding SE capability. Even the 412 was generally required by the operator to be at OEI weight prior to commencing winchops, so I'm not sure why you would assert otherwise unless someone you spoke to hadn't got the full SP or was new to the game.

Certainly we operated with SE machines in the military and this flowed to the civvie market but generally those days are long gone. There are far more considerations than just OEI capability, and far more failures that can lead to an emergency than just an engine going 'cough'.
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Old 31st Jul 2016, 18:53
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The following have been extracted from ICAR Air Commission documents over the last 4 years or incidents witnessed.

- Physiological degradation caused by chest strop
- Casualty in strop loosing consciousness
- Roll out from hook
- Shock load breaking wire
- Attachment to rock-face/vessel
- Entanglement with gear (causing either attachment or unintended persons on winch)
- Blade strike hovering near obstacle
- Loss of visual references
- Accidentally hooked to weak harness point
- Winching starts with person unattached or partially attached
- Untethered hoist operator
- Hi-line attached to person or object on the ground
- Hi-line entanglement with person on winch
- Hi-line weak-link insufficient for large high-powered rotorcraft
- Tree blown down by hovering aircraft during winching
- Aircraft enveloped by descending cloud-base during winch operation
- Downwash causing fatal fall
- Accidental cable cut

So, is it risky? I think that's a yes.
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Old 31st Jul 2016, 20:58
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RVDT, the winch can also be used for training, not just for a real emergency.
Only if "CASA" says so as nobody else will.

Most RFM supplements by manufacturers do NOT mention the fact that humans will ever be on the end of the cable.
They avoid the liability and that is up to you to prove along with your NAA and ops manual etc. Terms used are "cargo" or "object".

Pretty much standard in RFM supplements -
The external load equipment certification approval does not constitute operational approval; operational approval for external load operations must be granted by the local aviation authority.
Just so that you are aware that if it does go pear shaped you better have your ducks in a row.
How your NAA substantiates it would be the sticking point. :roll eyes:

There are or used to be quite a few operations with winches in Aus where it is Human External Load and NOT an emergency.
i.e. Part 133 D or equivalent.

RFS and Frogs and Logs comes to mind. Way out on a limb - excuse the pun.
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Old 31st Jul 2016, 23:09
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John. It was a AW139 pilot who told me that the aircraft are fitted with so much equipment that they often winch when an engine failure would not allow the aircraft to stay in the air.

Kim. Good points. I am looking at total risk. Not just from engine failure.
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Old 31st Jul 2016, 23:24
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In light of the rescue of the two little girls just outside Orange a few days ago, this is an interesting discussion.

The two little girls were only a shot distance from a road in relatively open country.

I am in furious agreement with those here who question whether the elevated risks being taken winching, the myriad of threats being generated, are commensurate with the risks of alternative rescue.

We all understand situations when life is seriously at risk, when time to hospital and intensive care is vital to survival, but this wasn't one of them. What possible risk analysis justified operating in the dead man's curve for a protracted time, versus the slightly longer time to walk the girls out??

One thing we have proven, time and again in aviation in general, in Australia, is we are not very good at real and rational risk analysis, particularly CASA, and to my mind, winching when there is no immediately life threatening risk, should be avoided.

In short, winching operations should be limited to when there is absolutely no alternative. SAR crews face quite enough "routine" threats in their day to day roles, without facing (knowingly or unknowingly) unnecessary threats.

Tootle pip!!
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Old 1st Aug 2016, 00:11
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There was a case a few years back when the decision NOT to winch caused the loss of an aircraft. The Polair Twin Squirrel (bought second-hand after the State Gummint refused to replace the BK117 which had a swim - coincidentally by this same pilot) was sent to rescue rock fishermen trapped by big seas up near Wyong. The choice was made to touch a skid on the rocks to let the fishermen climb on board, instead of winching.

Sadly a big wave came along and washed over the nose of the aircraft, obscuring vision. The pilot hesitated until the water receded and he could see properly before lifting off, but by then a second wave washed over, a bit higher, and put the fires out.

Fishermen and Polair crew rescued off the rocks some time later by ground crew. Squirrel rescued by a Kamov from Hevilift, carried away ignominiously upside down.
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Old 1st Aug 2016, 00:37
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In the UK, it never ceases to amaze me the lengths that aircrew go to to keep us safe on the wire. That goes for current contractors and previous military providers. The CAA and previously the MAA and predecessor military authorities have clearly been part of creating these working practices.

Fortunately, in Scotland, unlike Australia, we have the advantage that cold and wind come as standard. Altitudes do not exceed 4500 feet.

It would be good if one of the guys would step in and give us some detail on the current working practices. (No going to hold my breath.)
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Old 1st Aug 2016, 01:17
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i have heard of a case where the rescue heli landed on a beach, crewman got out, walked around to 4 kids that they were trying to rescue, then the helicopter went around and winched all 5 of them back onboard....

If the crewman could walk there, why couldn't the kids walk out?

That report came from the parents of 3 of the kids, and they were wondering why the kids couldn't walk around to the helicopter.....
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Old 1st Aug 2016, 02:18
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i have heard of a case
Don't believe anything you hear, and only half of what you see. Heard a story from a supposed passenger who alleged the pilot (individual named) popped the floats on a S-76, landed in the water, shut down, did a bit of fishing, started up, took off, sucked up the floats and flew home. Believe it or not (used to be a TV show by that name).
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Old 1st Aug 2016, 04:41
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Megan, totally understand, but i have heard, also seen the video, and have the t shirt...

in this case i believe the video evidence.
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