Helicopter Use and Safety

Jim Frankenfield; snowman@csac.org; 1-877-604-0166

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The group trips I organize usually involve helicopter transportation into and out of the mountains. This is some generic safety information on helicopter use. The pilot will generally give a safety talk prior to the first flight. Anything a pilot, ground crew member or guide instructs takes precedent over anything here it may conflict with. Hopefully this is basic enough that such conflicts will not occur.

The Safety Talk

The pilot generally shuts down the machine and gives a safety talk prior to loading the first shuttle. Pay close attention to this since they will probably not shut down between later shuttles and you will have to load/unload and board with the rotors spinning. (On some summer trips they have not shut down at all, having worked with me enough to count on our group being well-organized and safety conscious.)

On the ground

Helicopters generate a lot of rotor-wash so pull your hood up and tighten your hat down! Protect your eyes against dust and particles. Any items which are small and/or lightweight should be well-secured. Stack all gear together on one or both sides of the landing area as instructed, well back from the landing. Crouch over your gear as the helicopter lands or takes off.

Don't walk around the operating helicopter until it is clear that it is ok to do so (i.e. instructed by the pilot, a guide, ground crew, etc.). If the helicopter is landing in deep snow where there is no established pad remember that the effective height of the rotors may be lower than usual. If the helicopter does not shut down entirely crouch as you approach or work under the blades, wind or some other factor could push the rotor blades down. If the helicopter shuts down entirely do not approach until the blades stop moving.

One common problem is having too many "cooks in the kitchen". It is common to have one or two people designated for loading/unloading. If you are not one of these people it is best to just stay back out of the way until they are done, or to simply board/unboard as instructed and clear the rotor area.

When moving around while the helicopter is idling never go around the back end where the tail rotor is, always go around the front. Never approach or leave from/to rising ground. In some cases the pilot may instruct to load from each side to avoid having to go from one side to another. (Even when the helicopter is shut down it is best to stay clear of the tail area - some pilots still get quite upset even though nothing is spinning.)

Only one person should signal that it is ok to take off, after making sure the doors and baskets are all latched and the area is clear of anyone still moving around. Usually this will be a guide, ground crew or group leader. If you close doors or compartments do not slam them shut. Make sure they latch firmly and if you are not sure they are secure or not sure how to operate them then indicate to a crew member or ground leader (such as a guide) that the door/hatch needs closing properly.


In many cases flights are "dovetailed" with another group traveling the other direction, which cuts down the flight costs greatly. When this is the case be sure to load your groups gear from one place, or unload it to one place, where it will not be confused with gear from the other group.

When carrying skis, poles, or other long objects be sure they are horizontal and at waist height or below at all times. A ski or pole in the rotors can put a helicopter out of commission as well as create a great danger. (This is another thing that should be done even when the helicopter is shut down.)

Never throw items - carry them and hand them off directly without throwing.

Packing for helicopter transport

Space is often more of a problem than weight, so pack in small to medium containers as much as possible and avoid large packs, large boxes and coolers if possible. You will receive more detailed instructions on packing, including baggage limitations, well in advance of the trip. Read these instructions and pay close attention the them.

Flammables such as stove fuel are required to be carried outside. Pack such materials separately so they may be placed in the ski box outside the passenger compartment or internal baggage areas.

Riding in the Helicopter

Make sure seat belts and shoulder straps are secure. Usually a crew member will check this, if not and you need assistance then ask.

Remain seated at all times.

Use headset to speak if one is provided (which is usually the case). These are typically voice activated to adjust the microphone accordingly and speak into it. Do not speak or otherwise disturb the pilot during take-off, landing, or difficult flying conditions.

Helicopters cannot fly in all conditions, particularly in the mountains. Some groups have been observed to question why not, or to question the flying order/priorities chosen by the pilots. These guys have many flight hours of experience, usually over many years. If they don't want to fly you really don't either! Be patient.

The Pilot is Always Right!

You may be the customer, but the pilot is in charge of a piece of equipment that is worth a very large amount of money. Not to mention the safety of everyone involved. So you, the customer, are not always right in this situation! Experienced pilots have seen many of the things that can go wrong actually go wrong. For some of them their job includes flying out the remains when another helicopter crashes somewhere in the mountains. They may seem unreasonably uptight about certain things, even when the helicopter is shut down. There is a reason for this, so don't take anything personally and if they give you an instruction follow it. Don't be like the guy who wouldn't listen to the pilot, argued with him, and left for home out of frustration before ever taking off.

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