AS350B3/H125 Bird Strike with Red Kite
The Incident Flight
The French Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses pour la Sécurité de l’Aviation Civile (the BEA) explain in their safety investigation report (issued in December in 2020 in French only and UPDATE 31 March 2021 in English) that the helicopter took off from Annecy Airport with four passengers, for a private flight to Dieulefit, where one of the passenger was dropped off. The flight continued to Nîmes-Garons Airport. The helicopter had been cruising at 6,000 ft AMSL and began its descent towards Nîmes with a ground speed of around 140 kt. The BEA recount that:
Passing 1,100 ft in descent, about 5 NM north-east of Nîmes Garons, the helicopter struck a bird which broke through the canopy. The passenger in the front left seat was injured and bleeding profusely. The bird probably struck him in the chest and shards of the canopy cut into his scalp. The pilot, for his part, was not affected…[and] assessed the helicopter’s flying qualities and decided to continue to destination. He then reassured the injured passenger while optimizing his route in order to reduce the time it took for the passenger to be taken care of by the emergency services on the ground.
After impact on the rear bulkhead, the bird lands on the general pitch control. This does not affect the handling of the flight because the level of friction set by the pilot in stabilized flight is high.
The pilot declared an emergency, requested medical assistance on arrival and proceeded to make a safe landing at Nîmes-Garons.
The canopy was pierced on the passenger side, in the immediate vicinity of the central windscreen pillar, to a height of 78 cm and a width of approximately 40 cm. The metal upper part of the windshield pillar shows an impact mark of a few centimeters. This trace is located 20 cm to the left of the central upright (looking from the back to the front).
Of note is that:
The turbine engine fire handle guard has moved out of its safety position. The pilot indicated that he had not touched it.
The fire handle has not moved. The rear cabin bulkhead and the rear seat backs show biological debris traces. The most important debris of the canopy among those found measures approximately 25 cm.
Part 27 helicopter certification standards in Europe and the US, unlike Part 29 for larger helicopters, do not have a birdstrike requirement (discussed further below).
Prior to the accident, the aerodrome operator had carried out an assessment of the avian risk in the vicinity of the aerodrome in accordance with the requirements of European Regulation No.139 / 2014, in particular its Annex IV Part ADR.OPS.B.020 relating to ‘reduced risk of collision with wildlife’. The operator assessed that in the event sector, there is no identified hazard… [and this was]…considered to be an isolated case.
No specific bird risk has been identified in the sector by the aerodrome operator. However, the risk assessment methods used do not allow the identification of isolated and / or random bird presences. They aim to take into account predictable high concentrations.
If the pilot had been injured in a manner similar to that of the passenger, the safety of the flight would have been compromised. Wearing a protective helmet with a visor by the pilot would reduce exposure to this risk. Due to exposure to other specific risks, this practice is widespread in aerial work.
During the investigation into the accident to the helicopter registered as F-GOLH which occurred in 2015...the BEA showed that the pilot, who was not wearing a protective helmet, suffered a head injury. Remaining lucid and agile despite his injuries, his intervention was decisive in limiting the consequences of the collision with the ground, in particular for the securing of the wreckage and the evacuation of the passengers. In the report devoted to this investigation, a non-exhaustive list of thirteen helicopter accidents is presented during which the wearing of a helmet contributed to limiting the pilot’s injuries when he was equipped with one or could have contributed to it if he had one been equipped.
In a presentation on behalf of the Rotorcraft Bird Strike Working Group (RBSWG) to the 11th EASA Rotorcraft Symposium in December 2017 it was revealed that in the US 94% of the current helicopter fleet is made up of types that never needed to meet a bird strike requirement. A helicopter accident (discussed below) and the Hudson A320 ditching, both in January 2009, were likely causes of a big increase in all wildlife strikes reporting across the US helicopter fleet.
While fixed wing aircraft predominantly strike birds during take-off and landing, two thirds of rotorcraft strikes occurred during the en route phase (where kinetic energy is highest). Only 8-9% occurred during approach and 9-10% during climb. The presentation went on:
The largest single component struck by birds is the windshield with 47% on Part 27 and 40% on Part 29. 84-85% of all bird strikes occurred on components forward of the main rotor mast. This includes the main rotor which experienced 30%-33% of the strikes reported. Not one single record exists for windshield penetration on Part 29 rotorcraft certified to the FAA bird strike airworthiness standard established over 21 years ago. This is statistically significant. For newly manufactured and existing rotorcraft, the RBSWG proposed to use a Risk-Based Safety-Tiered approach that scales the bird strike regulation based on the maximum number of occupants onboard. As the number of occupants increases, so does the risk exposure.
They also recommend:
- Reduce airspeed when practical
- Increase altitude as quickly as possible and practical
- Use taxi and landing lights
A new EASA Safety Information Bulletin (SIB) is expected in mid-January 2021 on helicopter bird strikes.
We have previously written:
- Safety Lessons from a Fatal Helicopter Bird Strike: A fatal accident occurred on 4 Jan 2009 involving Sikorsky S-76C++ N748P of PHI that highlighted a range safety lessons. We also discuss current activity on enhancing bird strike requirements.
- USAF HH-60G Downed by Geese in Norfolk, 7 January 2014
- Deadly Dusk Air Ambulance Bird Strike
- Swedish Military NOE Helicopter Bird Strike
- Power of Prediction: Foresight and Flocking Birds looks at how a double engine loss due to striking Canada Geese had been predicted 8 years before the US Airways Flight 1549 ditching in the Hudson (which was just days after the Louisiana helicopter accident).
- Final Report Issued on 2008 B737 Bird Strike Accident in Rome
- NTSB Recommendations on JT15D Failure to Meet Certification Bird Strike Requirements
- USAF T-38C Downed by Bird Strike
- UPDATE 5 March 2021: Wire Strike on Unfamiliar Approach Direction to a Familiar Site
- UPDATE 19 April 2021: EASA have issued Safety Information Bulletin SIB 2021-07 on Bird Strike Risk Mitigation in Rotorcraft Operations and accompanying safety promotion material.