Kobe Bryant tragedy –How safe are helicopters?
Bottom Line: Kobe Bryant’s death along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others – including the pilot of his private helicopter have raised new questions about helicopter safety. A lot of what’s been discussed has been apples and oranges. Comparing auto accidents to helicopter accidents isn’t at all applicable because you have to adjust for the relative number of trips. There’s no credible data I’ve found to be able to compare the two, but I’ve designed a comparison I’ll get to in a moment. What is clear is this. Helicopters are still highly safe generally, however you’re far less safe on a private helicopter than those operated by governments or that are open to the public.
Official statistics are derived by the United States Helicopter Safety Team. According to their findings there are .68 fatal accidents per 100,000 flight hours. That’s hard to understand without a point of reference so here’s some other information for context. There are 12,000+ active helicopters in the US. 122 have been involved in accidents over the past year. Of those, 24 have been fatal. The accident rate based on these figures show that 1% of helicopters are involved in an accident annually with .02% being fatal. This compares with 1.3% of drivers being involved in an auto accident annually with .7% resulting in a fatality. It’s not a perfect comparison but generally speaking it appears to be safer flying in a helicopter than to ride in a car. But there’s a caveat. That’s using all helicopter data. Private helicopters are far less safe.
According to the USHSA data, only 3% of helicopter hours are private rides, yet about 26% of all fatal accidents derive from them. In other words, you’re about 9 times more likely to be involved in a fatal helicopter crash when it’s private. That suggests there’s a bigger issue at hand here and if there’s something constructive that might be derived from the tragic death of Kobe Bryant,this might be it. As we’re aware, the conditions during the time of the crash were poor enough that officials grounded their aircraft in the area,yet Kobe’s helicopter ventured into the fog. Experts have suggested that often private pilots feel pressure to deliver for their clients, after all it’s their job. This can result in erroring on the side of additional risks. The accident statistics corroborate this theory. It’s unlikely that private helicopters like Kobe’s state-of-the-art model, are the issue. It’s much more likely it’s the additional risks taken by pilots of private helicopters.