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When the pilot encountered significantly reduced visibility at low altitude, all visual cues were lost to the noninstrument-rated commercial pilot, the official Canadian accident report said.
Spatial Disorientation Blamed for Fatal Helicopter Accident in Poor Weather 6 pages. [PDF 55K]
After successfully completing a night nonprecision approach in instrument meteorological conditions to a rural airport, the pilot had apparently intended to proceed visually to a nearby helipad, the official accident report said.
Helicopter Strikes Water on Approach After Pilots Lose Altitude Awareness 12 pages. [PDF 107K]
The controlled-flight-into-terrain (CFIT) accident, which killed a passenger and necessitated an underwater escape by the pilots, was also attributed to flight crew failure to set their altimeters correctly.
During the study period, 16 percent of U.S. civil turbine-engine helicopter accidents involved the tail-rotor system. Most tail-rotor accidents involved pilot errors, but complete-loss-of-thrust accidents were often attributed to maintenance deficiencies.
The first line of defense is to avoid inadvertent instrument meteorological conditions, but vital guidelines can prepare a pilot for coping with the unexpected.
Only four of 28 commercial EMS helicopter pilots, when encountering unexpected instrument meteorological conditions in a simulator, received the highest possible score from instructors. But a majority of pilots followed basic guidelines in coping with the unexpected.