Our law firm has handled a number of crashes involving news helicopters.
There is a recurring safety problem involving numerous news helicopters involved in a police chase or other on-ground events simultaneously having the pilots report live while in flight. In October 2007, the National Press Photographers Association recommended that news helicopter pilots no longer report live while they are flying the helicopter, but this practice continues.
In July 2007, two news helicopters collided midair over Phoenix, Arizona, killing both pilots and two photojournalists onboard. These were just two of five helicopters covering a police chase in downtown Phoenix. Although the helicopter pilots reported observing each other and talking on the radio, they all were clearly intent on following and covering the police chase. These pilots failed to maintain proper visual contact with each other.
Voice transcripts from both helicopters demonstrate that the crews were intensely focused on covering the police chase taking place on the ground beneath them. Both helicopter pilots were on the air and reporting live to their respective news stations at the time of the collision. The voice transmissions further indicate that neither helicopter pilot realized that they were in imminent danger or had any indication that they were about to collide.
The Phoenix midair collision between two helicopters illustrates the recurring safety problem of having numerous helicopters involved in a police chase or other on-ground event while simultaneously having the pilots report live. In October 2007, the National Press Photographers Association recommended that news helicopter pilots no longer report live while they are flying the helicopter. The NPPA rightly determined that the practice puts the helicopter and its passengers, not to mention those on the ground beneath them, an unnecessary risk.
Other safety precautions which should be taken by news helicopters include painting a highly visible stripe pattern on the helicopters’ rotors so that they may more easily be seen from above, and adding bright strobe lights which may be positioned for maximum visibility so as to avoid a collision with other aircraft.
Simple and inexpensive procedures such as requiring helicopter pilots within each market to communicate with each other, report their positions and meet periodically to discuss safety issues, are all simple and inexpensive measures designed to eliminate these risks.