Delta

Helicopter crash 7 miles short of airport, fatalities 3, pilot survived

In this scenario a life guard helicopter was transporting an injured patient from a small town to a major airport.

Weather

Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC) with low ceilings, poor visibility, fog, and strong winds

NAVAIDs

VORTAC - out of service

Airspace

The flight transitioned Terminal RADAR Approach Control (TRACON) airspace

Findings

The pilot in command (PIC) of the aircraft was in communication with ATC and under RADAR contact prior to exiting TRACON airspace. The aircraft ran out of fuel before reaching the destination. RADAR recordings showed the aircraft's track was erratic. While the PIC was obviously negligent by proceeding in marginal weather without adequate fuel, the following additional observations were made:

  • Based on traffic load in the TRACON's area of responsibility, the TRACON Controller's priority of duties per FAA 7110.65 (Air Traffic Control Procedures) allowed time to assist the pilot by issuing vectors to the destination; vectors were not provided even though there was no other air traffic in the area.
  • Although the PIC gave no indication of difficulties, a controller with reasonable experience should understand levels of stress coping poor weather, low fuel, and no navigation aids. These human performance factors contribute to errors in judgment. While primary responsibility for flight safety falls on the PIC, is it reasonable to consider ATC's contribution to the fatalities by not acting appropriately within ones professional skill and capacity?

Considering the nature of the flight (ambulatory), and poor weather conditions, (the pilot was required to navigate using pilotage) coupled with and the fact that the VORTAC was out of service, is it reasonable to consider that an experienced controller should have recognized the necessity for suggested vectors to the destination?

Further review of the RADAR track showed that the flight would have reached destination with a more direct track, e.g. there would have been adequate fuel to reach the destination