Helicopter Safety After Kobe Bryant's Death

Kobe Bryant’s death along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others have raised new questions about helicopter safety. Comparing auto accidents to helicopter accidents isn’t at all applicable because there has to be an adjustment for the relative number of trips. I have not found any credible data to be able to compare the two. What is clear is this. Helicopters are generally still highly safe. However, you’re far less safe on a private helicopter than those operated by governments or that are open to the public. 

Official statistics are derived by the United States Helicopter Safety Team. According to their findings, there are .68 fatal accidents per 100,000 flight hours. In context it means that if there are 12,000+ active helicopters in the US, 122 have been involved in accidents over the past year and of those, 24 have been fatal. The accident rate based on these figures shows that 1% of helicopters are involved in an accident annually with .02% being fatal. This compares with 1.3% of drivers being involved in an auto accident annually with .7% resulting in a fatality. It’s not a perfect comparison but generally speaking, it appears to be safer flying in a helicopter than riding in a car. But, that’s using all helicopter data. Private helicopters are far less safe. 

According to the USHSA data, only 3% of helicopter hours are private rides, yet about 26% of all fatal accidents derive from them. In other words, you’re about 9 times more likely to be involved in a fatal helicopter crash when it’s private. That suggests there’s a bigger issue at hand here and if there’s something constructive that might be derived from the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, this might be it. As we’re aware, the conditions during the time of the crash were poor enough that officials grounded their aircraft in the area, yet Kobe’s helicopter ventured into the fog. Experts have suggested that often private pilots feel pressure to deliver for their clients, after all, it’s their job. This can result in errors on the side of additional risks. The accident statistics corroborate this theory. It’s unlikely that private helicopters like Kobe’s state-of-the-art model, are the issue. It’s much more likely it’s the additional risks taken by pilots of private helicopters. 

Photo by: Getty Images North America

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