Maritime accidents don’t always involve people on ships, rigs, or in the water. In fact, people are also injured or killed in incidents involving aircraft on the high seas. Helicopters are commonly used with oil rigs and large ships that have helipads installed. They can ferry people from one place to another, or be used to support vessels that serve as supply ships or as offshore bases.
The Jones Act covers aviators and others in helicopters and, in some cases, those involved in airline crashes over the ocean. Seamen and air crews perform similar tasks, so are covered under various provisions of the law and even by the Death on the High Seas Act. If a crew member, employer, or pilot are found negligent or somehow careless or incompetent, these laws permit accident victims or their families to file lawsuits against them.
Repercussions of Maritime Helicopter and Aviation Accidents
Helicopters carry the same risks at sea as they do on land. Pilot error, improper training, and equipment problems can cause crashes. Incidents involving airliners get more media attention, but small helicopter crashes in the Gulf of Mexico have occurred more often than reported, in relation to oil rigs, natural gas facilities, and drilling vessels located offshore.
Aircraft that strike water often break apart and are traveling at high speeds. Therefore, the injuries are typically severe. Sudden deceleration is the cause of the most common issue – head injuries. Spinal, abdominal, and thoracic injuries are also common, as are pelvic and leg/arm fractures. Fuel tank explosions can lead to burns and wounds from penetrating metal, while exposure to cold water can cause hypothermia.
If there is any level of neglect, an aviation accident can be much more serious than one on the water. Damage to a fuel line or hydraulic line, or failing to correct a navigation error, can lead to disaster quickly.
However, workers do not have to be on board the helicopter to be hurt. Crashes and explosions can fling sharp and often burning debris quite a distance. Individuals have been burned well away from accidents. Some have suffered fractures and head injuries and even required amputations after being struck by objects.
Offshore Aviation Incident Statistics
A Centers for Disease Control report tracked fatal injuries involving offshore oil and gas operations in the U.S. From 2003-2010, it noted that 51 percent of fatalities involved transportation, and 75 percent of these were while flying from one place to another. All aviation incidents tracked by the CDC were helicopter-related. By comparison, 13 percent of fatalities on rigs were caused by fires.
Maritime laws and safety standards, enforced by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, help to reduce the risks. Failing to learn about these or follow the recommendations can lead to significant losses and liabilities. On a helicopter, one cannot afford to skip maintenance and repair procedures, or inspections, because the loss of life is a high risk and a costly one at that.