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Yet Another Fatal Wirestrike

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Yet Another Fatal Wirestrike

Old 21st Dec 2021, 11:46
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.

When this first came on the news I went on Google Street View .... started at the wrong end and traveled over 10 miles before coming to where power-lines crossed the road at the west end ...... Looked like clear sailing with no obstructions other than street lamps and even they had no overhead wires .

Not excusing the pilot but the 11 mile bridge would have initially been a good VFR reference because one side is open water and the other is forest and swamp

The very tall power-line and towers continue across miles of that forest and miles of that open water so either way he would have encountered them trying to stay under the fog.

Like I said , not excusable but makes his choice more understandable under those conditions.

Picture shows the four lanes of highway he was flying over ..... On the very right is a railroad track with typical low level power lines but they are not the ones he hit.

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Old 21st Dec 2021, 11:52
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Experience counts, there is no way around it. Just gain experience, and you will find it gets easier to say no AND to honor your responsibility to uphold the safety of those on board above anything else. Rather than be a ********. Just have the humility before you gain that experience to simply be cautious and operate only within your personal limits regardless of what perceived pressure you have. Put your ego away for goodness sake.
Such a senseless loss.
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Old 21st Dec 2021, 16:40
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Such a senseless loss.
And just before Christmas - one can't help feeling for his 3 sons and his widow who will associate Christmas with his passing for many years........what on earth was he thinking?
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Old 21st Dec 2021, 16:57
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I have waited a few days before posting. Very sad accident and we will continue to have these types of accidents moving forwards. Some on here have made comments that I disagree with, but that is the beauty of the herd.

I teach "Flying in the Wire Environment" to one of the large power companies--every linemen who flies and every pilot on property, (70,000 Sq. Mile territory), goes through the class, and I have hit and survived a wire strike, so I "may" have some insight.

In my mind it comes down to CRM, be it multi-crew or single pilot.
  1. Communication either to ones self or flying partner as to the location and proximity of wires and hazards. Verbalize the hazard while flying.
  2. Situational Awareness, which covers systems, location, where are the wires in relation to you, fatigue, human factors etc including "continuation Bias
  3. Decision Making, choosing to fly in the wire environment or choosing to sit it out.
To those who have said he was stupid and cannot believe people would do this, I say it is human nature. Even in the companies where there is no pressure to fly, pilots still try........

I leave you with these words, and say RIP fellow pilot ...
"The readiness to blame a dead pilot for an accident is nauseating, but it has been the tendency ever since I can remember. What pilot has not been in positions where he was in danger and where perfect judgment would have advised against going? But when a man is caught in such a position he is judged only by his error and seldom given credit for the times he has extricated himself from worse situations. Worst of all, blame is heaped upon him by other pilots, all of whom have been in parallel situations themselves, but without being caught in them. If one took no chances, one would not fly at all. Safety lies in the judgment of the chances one takes."

— Charles Lindbergh, journal entry 26 August 1938

Last edited by Gordy; 21st Dec 2021 at 17:00. Reason: Spelling---clearly I am a pilot not a novelist.
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Old 21st Dec 2021, 17:16
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You - and Charles - couldn’t have said it any better.
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Old 21st Dec 2021, 17:33
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"The readiness to blame a dead pilot for an accident is nauseating, but it has been the tendency ever since I can remember. What pilot has not been in positions where he was in danger and where perfect judgment would have advised against going? But when a man is caught in such a position he is judged only by his error and seldom given credit for the times he has extricated himself from worse situations. Worst of all, blame is heaped upon him by other pilots, all of whom have been in parallel situations themselves, but without being caught in them. If one took no chances, one would not fly at all. Safety lies in the judgment of the chances one takes."

— Charles Lindbergh, journal entry 26 August 1938


I'm confused Chuck. If the pilot is not to blame for such an accident then who is?
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Old 21st Dec 2021, 17:59
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Originally Posted by Hot and Hi View Post
You - and Charles - couldn’t have said it any better.
We’ve had almost 84 years of re-learning lessons, processes, procedures and regulation since chuck uttered those words.
If he were here today, I would be surprised if the thought passing through his mind wasn’t “FFS people!”

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Old 21st Dec 2021, 18:50
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Agreed - a lot of water under the bridge and far too many accidents (so often repeatable ones). At some point you do have to blame the pilot, there is no excuse in modern aviation for ignorance of the dangers.

The 'no-blame' culture of safety management systems has helped people report near misses but it hasn't stopped the fatal accidents a SMS is supposed to prevent.

We are not pioneering as in the days of Lindbergh, we are using aircraft to do a job - or sometimes for recreation - office workers don't sit under a grand piano suspended from the ceiling by a fraying rope but that is what pilots keep doing by flying in crappy weather at low level.
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Old 21st Dec 2021, 19:46
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Some very wise words, and a superb image about having a piano suspended above your head. Really brings it home

This is not a dig at all, but as a fixed wing pilot who spent a lot of time about 6 miles above such hazards, do heli pilots not refer to and obey MORAs?, (minimum off route altitudes). MORAs allow for obstacles up to 1000' above the surface, and electricity pylons are, what 200-300' high? which is bloody low from a flying point of view, (and below the low flying rule limit).

So if the cloud base does not allow flight above local MORA, then surely to goodness it should not be attempted, no matter what the forward visibility is perceived to be??

And why would any pilot fly en-route below the height of electricity pylons......Ever?? Surely asking for trouble?

Not having a go, just confused why anyone would do this.
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Old 21st Dec 2021, 22:11
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Uplinker - there are plenty of us ex-mil whose job was to fly at low level and we were well trained to do it, day and night - unfortunately there are many who think they can do it without the training.

I note that the accident pilot had been in the USMC but as an aircraft mechanic and not a pilot, and he would have seen plenty of pilots go off to low fly and maybe heard tales of their exploits, probably with bad weather as a factor.

Now fast forward to him having his own licence (only 7 years of experience and probably little at low level) and he is pushing limits he has heard about but not experienced.

Otherwise I struggle to think why he would put himself in a situation that properly trained and experienced pilots would have balked at.
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Old 22nd Dec 2021, 02:01
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You're a tough crowd. Every human endevour has its share of accidents, why should aviation be an exception? People err and at the end of the day we are left wondering why did s/he do that, at times the answer is elusive or unknowable.

Gordy is a very experienced operator yet took out some wires, be interesting for his explanation to show how easily it can happen.

My wire story. One of two pilots working for a newly established operator and putting in more than permissible duty hours, Saturday was to be a day off, at dawn Saturday morning the phone rings, a four year old child has spent the night lost in the bush in freezing weather and can we do a search. Fly to the assigned area, heavily timbered mountainous country, weather CAVOK,high recce and plot the location of a very high voltage power line, then down to the tree tops hover taxiing using the rotor wash to blow the canopy apart so as to see forest floor. Proceeding along the bottom of a valley received a message the child had been found was and asked if I could land in a clear area located just up the hill from my present location. An emotionally charged moment as my child was of the same age. Flying a 206 on fixed floats, looking down through the chin bubble suddenly saw a wire come into view, looked up and the earth wire looked to be approaching at a height just under the rotor disc, a quick and measured drop of collective and we sailed underneath to come out unscathed, ground speed at the time no more than 5 knots. God does smile on the foolish at times. Completely forgotten about wires at the time despite the recce. Why? I can't give an answer, a psychologist might.
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Old 22nd Dec 2021, 02:51
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HAI - Land and LIVE program
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Old 22nd Dec 2021, 05:23
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There is a BIG difference between commercial operations in the utility, rescue and agricultural sectors who have to negotiate wires constantly as part of their job - and collecting some in the fog/low cloud because you are flying below minimas.
Accidents can and will happen in that area and more often than not, into wires they are acutely aware of.
One comes with the territory the other is completely unnecessary.
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Old 22nd Dec 2021, 05:43
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Originally Posted by megan View Post
You're a tough crowd. Every human endeavor has its share of accidents, why should aviation be an exception? People err and at the end of the day we are left wondering why did s/he do that, at times the answer is elusive or unknowable.
Agreed, and some posters here just don't get it.... I cannot force you.

Originally Posted by megan View Post
Gordy is a very experienced operator yet took out some wires, be interesting for his explanation to show how easily it can happen.
It was calm wind, good weather, good visibility, I knew the wire was in the area..... got complacent, lost situational awareness.... I was patrolling a different circuit at the time and was flying in the wire environment by choice.

PG&E did sponsor and pay for a video re-creation which forms part of the 8 hour class I teach. (Fun day---"Hey Gordy, we know you hit these wires but can you hover in front of them for 10 minutes while we film?".... Me: "Not a problem---not stressful at all"...said in a sarcastic voice). If you watched the USHST webinar 8 weeks ago you would have seen the video, they have yet to put it on their website. The video is proprietary therefore I cannot just post it, I will seek permission to post it here...give me a few days. Failing that, I am booked to present at the "Vertical Aviation Safety Conference" in Texas next year.

Here is a still from the video....me flying.... You see it?

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Old 22nd Dec 2021, 10:32
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Not a tough crowd at all - just sick of pilots taking unreasonable risks, usually for the wrong reasons and losing their lives (and taking others with them).

After 40 years in the cockpit, I realise that not highlighting the errors of others is the mistake - we hide behind no-blame culture and paper-safety from SMS so we can can keep taking those risks because we are pilots and clearly a cut above the rest of the human race (or so many of us seem to think).

Flying into a set of wires you didn't know were there is unfortunate - flying into a set you did know was there is a failure to aviate properly.
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Old 22nd Dec 2021, 12:41
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I think the important aspect here is that we accept that we as pilots will make errors because we are human.

I thank Gordy for sharing his experience. I think everyone who is honest with themselves will have been in a situation at one time or another where we have (to use Crab's phrase) "failed to aviate properly". I know I have - because I'm human and I make mistakes.

But we have it in our power to use our judgment to reduce the chances of an error occurring and to reduce the severity of that error if it does occur.

This accident was not a wire strike per-se - It was CFIT in bad weather. That it happened that he hit a wire rather than another form of obstruction or terrain is irrelevant.

Yes we all make mistakes and we need to allow for that.

But we seem as an industry to be woefully unable to learn from the mistakes of others.

At what point do these things stop being mistakes and become recklessness or negligence?

As for being "a tough crowd"? I think we damn well should be a tough crowd to ourselves as an industry because these kind of "accidents" and near misses simply should not be happening anywhere near as frequently as they are.


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Old 22nd Dec 2021, 13:29
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Not ever a heli pilot, so not judging at all, but precisely because we are human, pilots have safety procedures and limits, such as MSAs or Grid MORAs, that we must follow to keep us safe in a dynamic flying situation.

I don't know if Helis have some sort of Grid MORA equivalent? In the airline world, flying below this or the MSA is a strict no-no, (unless approaching a runway). Obviously some helicopter Ops do involve flying low, and I understand the need to fly at tree-top height for search and rescue, or with underslung loads, but in such situations, is there not an observer to look out while the pilot is looking down, or vice versa?

In Gordy's still frame, above, the wires go across a valley, so the minimum height would need to be much higher than 200 - 300: above the valley floor to clear those.

Shame there isn't a GPS App like a Sat-Nav but with all the wires and pylons on, that could track and alert the pilot about the presence of either nearby. Such a thing would seem pretty useful for helicopter ops? Amazed it hasn't already been done.

Last edited by Uplinker; 22nd Dec 2021 at 13:42.
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Old 22nd Dec 2021, 14:44
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Originally Posted by Uplinker View Post
Shame there isn't a GPS App like a Sat-Nav but with all the wires and pylons on, that could track and alert the pilot about the presence of either nearby. Such a thing would seem pretty useful for helicopter ops? Amazed it hasn't already been done.
There are systems out there. GECO and EuroNav for example.
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Old 22nd Dec 2021, 15:16
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Originally Posted by Uplinker View Post
Some very wise words, and a superb image about having a piano suspended above your head. Really brings it home

This is not a dig at all, but as a fixed wing pilot who spent a lot of time about 6 miles above such hazards, do heli pilots not refer to and obey MORAs?, (minimum off route altitudes). MORAs allow for obstacles up to 1000' above the surface, and electricity pylons are, what 200-300' high? which is bloody low from a flying point of view, (and below the low flying rule limit).

So if the cloud base does not allow flight above local MORA, then surely to goodness it should not be attempted, no matter what the forward visibility is perceived to be??

And why would any pilot fly en-route below the height of electricity pylons......Ever?? Surely asking for trouble?

Not having a go, just confused why anyone would do this.
I understand it must seem insane from the pressurized cabin point of view. To answer your questions: When you're flying from airport to airport then obviously you don't need to use a helicopter with all of its disadvantages. A helicopter by it's nature must sooner or later descend into the obstacle environment in order to get the job done, apart from few exceptions such as news gathering or some police work. Even if it's just for that one off-airport landing or take-off at one end of an A to B flight. Most utility work is based on constantly flying very low. Low flying is our bread and butter.

As you asked specifically about en-route: Crab already explained that scud running can be done relatively safely with helicopters due to the fact that they can fly as slow as required. When you get caught out by degrading conditions you can simply land (given the environment offers enough suitable spots).
However, adequate reduction of speed as well as the right timing for a precautionary landing both require proper perception and assessment of the current situation. That judgement is not black and white but very individual and subjective compared to the highly standardized procedures of IFR flight at three-digit flight levels. I'd say generally the line between flying safely and "asking for trouble" is a lot thinner in VFR helicopter ops.

Originally Posted by Uplinker View Post
In Gordy's still frame, above, the wires go across a valley, so the minimum height would need to be much higher than 200 - 300: above the valley floor to clear those.
Gordy wrote: "I was patrolling a different circuit at the time and was flying in the wire environment by choice."
Meaning he was inspecting another wire. This means flying right next to the line and simply cannot be done at a "safe" height.

Originally Posted by KiwiNedNZ View Post
Sounds like one of those "Do as I say Not As I Do"
Agreed.
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Old 22nd Dec 2021, 15:47
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Originally Posted by Uplinker View Post
Not ever a heli pilot, so not judging at all, but precisely because we are human, pilots have safety procedures and limits, such as MSAs or Grid MORAs, that we must follow to keep us safe in a dynamic flying situation.

I don't know if Helis have some sort of Grid MORA equivalent?
In the US, in general they do not. Nothing that is mandated by the FAA. Various operators may implement their own rules and procedures in addition to FAA regulations. Some of those additional rules, procedures, systems and processes may be required to get a commercial, Part 135 operating certificate. But, in general, the answer is almost universally no.

It's apparently worth pointing out (again), that in the US, helicopter day VFR operations in Class G airspace enjoy the following weather minimum requirements: 1/2 mile visibility and clear of clouds. Class G in the US is found nearly everywhere at 600 AGL and below, sometimes 1200 AGL and below, except where Class B, C, D and E extend to the ground. The accident helicopter was operating in Class G airspace.

Of course, just because it is legal does not make it safe. And just because it is safe for some pilots does not make is safe for others. Everything is relative. Including a pilot's risk personal minimums. As was well said already, we can all stay perfectly safe by remaining on the ground. Put one foot on a step stool in your kitchen and you are asking for it!

Obviously some helicopter Ops do involve flying low, and I understand the need to fly at tree-top height for search and rescue, or with underslung loads, but in such situations, is there not an observer to look out while the pilot is looking down, or vice versa?
Again, the answer is "not required", not that that isn't the norm. However, in this particular case, the pilot was merely trying to get from point A to point B and not engaged in SAR, external load, or any other sort of more complex operation.

Shame there isn't a GPS App like a Sat-Nav but with all the wires and pylons on, that could track and alert the pilot about the presence of either nearby. Such a thing would seem pretty useful for helicopter ops? Amazed it hasn't already been done.
It has been done already. Indeed, the accident helicopter was reported as being a 407GXP. This model has all the hardware necessary to run the Garmin HTAWS functionality as a software add-on, as well as the Garmin WireAware add-on to HTAWS. WireAware has been around since at least 2015 and provides warnings against a vast database of power lines throughout the US. Whether or not this helicopter was equipped with HTAWS or WireAware I can't say.

All things being equal, this pilot might have been doing everything as perfectly as it could be done under those conditions. Flying slow and cautiously. He might have been perfectly cognizant of those powerlines. And yet it takes only one "rogue cloud" or a few seconds of distraction under those conditions for things to turn out differently. It's low safety margin flying and, as is plainly evident from the discussion here, there are some who believe it is too low to be allowed. Others successfully execute in this regime quite frequently. It's an argument as old as the invention of aircraft. It's risks are proven over and over again. Some are willing to run those risks. Others are not. Until it becomes outlawed entirely, there will always be pilots who are willing.

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