LEGAL GUIDE
Written by attorney Sebastian Gibson

Aircraft and Helicopter Accident Investigations and How They Assist Aviation Lawyers in California

Aviation and helicopter accidents occur in California for a number of reasons, and almost always result in catastrophic injuries and deaths. However, NTSB investigations assist aviation lawyers immensely in determining the causes of these horrific accidents. Commonly, aircraft and aviation attorneys see human error and mechanical defects as the causes of these accidents and of emergency medical service helicopter and sightseeing tour crashes. They occur when pilots become distracted just like vehicle drivers, when they fail to follow safety guidelines, and when they are guilty of human error or unprofessional behavior such as drinking alcohol before a flight. Investigations of aviation aircraft and helicopter crashes are pursued primarily by the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) and by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). However in this age of terrorism, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security may also investigate the possibility of criminal behavior or terrorism and of course, as one may suspect from watching all the television shows with NCIS in the name, the NCIS may be involved if the case involves the military. As one might imagine, it matters more than you think who you call for an aircraft or helicopter accident. When it matters most, as with aviation accidents, you want to call an attorney with experience in such cases. As you may have read, there has been an unexpected series of catastrophes happening on the way from horrific accident scenes in the U.S. on the way to hospitals in EMS helicopters. The helicopters crashing have killed many of the occupants at an unacceptable rate. EMS helicopter crashes in the U.S. have become one of the most dangerous areas of aviation and one of the highest accident rates for aviation crashes. An NTSB study of EMS helicopter crashes between 1983 and 2005 found that the majority of the crashes occurred - 77 percent as opposed to 31 percent - when weather conditions forced pilots to fly using their instruments rather than by looking outside for visual cues. In darkness, 56 percent of the crashes were fatal as compared to 24 percent when the flight was not in darkness. That study determined 29 of those 55 accidents could have been avoided. A number of safety issues were identified. Consequently, in 2006, the NTSB issued a special report to address the safety issues of these flights to accident scenes and sought computerized safety equipment, terrain awareness and warning systems (TAWS) (also referred to as terrain avoidance technology) to warn pilots when they were flying too close to land. Until this situation is improved, pilots of EMS helicopters as well as the police and medical personnel on the ground have to take into consideration the condition of the injured persons at accident scenes, the dangerousness of the location, as well as the weather conditions and darkness in determining if the accident victims can be taken to a hospital by ambulance or if the risks warrant the use of an EMS helicopter, both for the safety of the injury victims and the EMS pilots, flight nurses and paramedics. The causes of other types of aviation accidents can also include air traffic control miscommunications, improper or inadequate deicing procedures or failing to recognize when deicing is insufficient to make a takeoff safe, improper actions after an aircraft warning of ice buildup on the wings of an aircraft, and other errors in judgement made by inexperienced pilots. Claims against air traffic controllers must be made under the procedures set forth in the Federal Tort Claims Act as with any employees of the U.S. federal government. There are also limits on lawsuits against manufacturers of aviation aircraft, and other aircraft components under the General Aviation Revitalization Act. While international treaties also impose limitations on the amount of damages that can be obtained in international aircraft accidents, it remains important to have an attorney representing your individual interests and not one whose attention may be focused on others more seriously injured or who have greater wrongful death damages.

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