Helicopter pilot was distracted by phone

Substantial damage was caused to a helicopter on landing on a beach last summer after the pilot was distracted by his mobile phone.

A new report by the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) reveals a helicopter tipped over onto its side after landing at Carrahane Strand near Ardfert, Co Kerry, on July 16.

Substantial damage was caused to the Enstrom 280FX helicopter.

File image

The incident occurred after the 72-year-old pilot decided to land briefly for a break while carrying out practice exercises near Carrahane Strand.

The AAIU report said the skids of the helicopter had landed softly in the surface of soft, wet sand before rolling over onto its left side.

The pilot, who was uninjured in the incident, was able to exit the helicopter through the right-hand door.

He told AAIU inspectors that his mobile phone rang just as he was about to land.

The pilot said the device contained software for navigation and flight planning but stressed he would never use it for communications during a flight.

He admitted glancing at the phone, which was mounted on a bracket beside the instrument panel, in order to identify the caller.

At the same time, a gust of wind from the west hit the right side of the helicopter which caused it to roll over onto its left side, causing significant damage to the rotor blades, rotor mast, and tail rotor.

The pilot said the entire incident was “over in an instant”.

The AAIU said the helicopter skid which was embedded in soft, wet sand would have acted as a pivot point which probably led to a “dynamic rollover”.

The removal of the helicopter from the strand was organised before it could be inspected at the scene of the accident as the incoming tide could have resulted in its total loss.

While the AAIU did not issue any safety recommendations, it noted that the landing of a helicopter was a critical phase of a flight when circumstances could change rapidly.

“For this reason, any distraction during landing can contribute to an upset unless a prompt intervention is initiated,” it added.

The AAIU pointed out that the US National Transportation Safety Board has issued a safety alert which highlighted the dangers of using portable electronic devices such as mobile phones, tablets and GPS units in the cockpit.


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