Helicopter accidents in Texas and around the country are investigated thoroughly by the National Transportation Safety Board to make sure that they were not caused by mechanical defects that could affect other aircraft and endanger the public. One such investigation was concluded in September when the federal safety agency released its final report on a crash in Northern Wisconsin that claimed three lives in April 2018.
The medical helicopter crashed as it made its way to its base in Woodruff about an hour and 45 minutes after taking off from a hospital in Madison. After studying footage recorded by cameras inside the helicopter, studying the pilot’s medical records and examining the wreckage, NTSB investigators determined that the accident was caused by fatigue. The two medical technicians who died in the crash can be heard on the tape asking the pilot if he capable of flying the helicopter safely. The pilot can also be seen shifting around in his seat and adjusting his arms and legs, which are clear signs of fatigue according to the NTSB report.
Investigators may have initially questioned their findings because the pilot’s wife told them that her husband had not been having any problems sleeping. He was also not on duty long enough to cause dangerous levels of fatigue in an individual who was fully rested when they began their shift. The investigators later concluded that the pilot’s circadian rhythm had been affected by a week-long vacation he had recently taken in a different time zone. The circadian rhythm is the mechanism the body uses to regulate the wake-sleep cycle.
Duty of care
Companies that operate helicopters are expected to take all reasonable steps to ensure the safety of their passengers, employees and the general public, and they may be held accountable in civil court when a failure to meet this duty of care leads to a crash. Attorneys with experience in cases involving helicopter accidents could use the findings of NTSB investigators to establish negligence in personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits, and they could also call on sleep specialists or other medical experts when fatigue or a health emergency of some sort appears to have played a role.