L e s s o n s L... Southwestern Region Aviation Safety Helicopter R otor Strikes Summary of Incident

Lessons Learned
Southwestern Region Aviation Safety
H e l i c o p t e r R o t o r S t r i ke s
Summary of Incident — SAFECOM 13-0178
The incident occurred while performing bucket work with a hundred foot longline on an initial attack
fire. Towards the end of a fuel cycle the helicopter was landing at an unimproved helispot in order to
disconnect the longline prior to getting fuel. The pilot was not comfortable with how close the line was
to the skid and lifted the helicopter up about three feet in order to reposition. During this time the tail
rotor made contact with a prickly pear cactus. It appeared no damage had occurred, the rotor strike
tab was undamaged and there was no post vibration. The Regional Aircraft Maintenance Inspector was
consulted and concluded that the helicopter could continue operations.
What was done well
The helispot was staffed, providing an extra set of eyes to aid the pilot in identifying hazards.
Proper procedures were followed to ensure the aircraft was able to continue operations.
Great reporting and communication of the incident.
Good use of AARs as an opportunity for learning.
It was early in the season, only the fifth day the
helicopter was on contract.
This was the first year of a contract for a new
make of helicopter to the crew. This model
helicopter has a lower tailrotor assembly than
the prior contract aircraft.
The relief pilot flying met qualifications, but had
low time in this type of helicopter.
A synthetic longline was being used. The
decreased weight of the line was leading to
more interference by rotor wash closer to the
Landing in unimproved areas carries increased
Communication between helispot managers and
pilots can face challenges during landing.
Picture of the cactus struck by the tail rotor, US
Forest Service Photo.
Lessons Learned
Southwestern Region Aviation Safety
H e l i c o p t e r R o t o r S t r i ke s
Recommendations and Take-Aways
Consider clearing more than the established minimums when making helispot improvements.
Establish communication protocols prior to flight operations.
Maintain positive communication between pilot and marshaller or helispot manager.
Understand the different physical configurations of helicopters.
Brief on the dynamics of synthetic longlines and communicate spatial position and clearances to the
This is a good example of multiple influences leading to an incident. Looking back we
can apply the Swiss Cheese Model for this event. Early season is a time when pilots are
getting back into the grove and establishing a working relationship with the crew. Had
it been later in the season or had this not been the first year of a new contract, the
crew, and the pilot, would have had more familiarity with helicopter characteristics
and an increased awareness of crew resource management. This could have lead to a
different realization of hazards.
Image of the Swiss Cheese
Model, adapted from James
Reason, 1990. For more
information on the Swiss
Cheese Model and Human
Factor please visit http://
For any questions, comments, or concerns please call Jami Anzalone, Regional Aviation Safety
Manager at (505) 842-3351 or Clem Pope, Aviation Management Specialist (detailed) at (505)