Are Helicopter Tours Safe?

It may be surprising to discover that San Antonio has several helicopter tours available for those with a desire to see the sights. From several romantic-themed night flights over the San Antonio river and over the sparkling city, to a more historic tour over the Alamo and La Villita, to longer scenic flights over Hill Country. It’s no doubt that San Antonio has a lot to offer for those seeking a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

As you might imagine however, as with any flight be it airplane or helicopter, there are obvious risks and dangers. Accidents have happened, even right here in San Antonio. Is a thirty-minute flight worth risking your life? There are many different factors to consider when planning on reserving a helicopter tour: the weather, the experience of the pilot, the viability of the helicopter itself, and so on. While we’re not trying to ruin a local tourist business (such are the life-blood of the economy), we do believe that knowing what perils there are in helicopter flights is important, just as knowing the dangers of driving on our highways or working at construction sites.

What are the risk factors of helicopter tours?

Helicopter tours offer breathtaking views and unique experiences, but they also come with inherent risks that can make them dangerous. In 2019, a helicopter tour flight crashed at the intersection of East Southcross and South Presa Street. While there were only minor injuries for this accident, another accident which occurred in 2022 up north in Rowlett during a helicopter flight training session ended with two fatalities. In total, the US saw 94 accidents, 19 fatal accidents, and 35 fatalities in 2020.

Having a trained pilot as a part of a larger helicopter tour company might make us feel safe in taking a ride, but it is critical to understand the risks. When aviation accidents happen, the consequences are often tragic.

Some of the reasons why helicopter tours can be risky include:

  • Weather conditions. Helicopter tours are often weather-dependent. Adverse weather conditions such as fog, rain, or strong winds can affect visibility and make flying challenging and hazardous.
  • Inadequate maintenance. If the helicopter isn’t properly maintained or serviced, it can increase the risk of mechanical failures during the flight.
  • Mechanical failures. Helicopters, like any machinery, can experience mechanical failures. These failures could impact the helicopter’s ability to fly and control, leading to accidents.
  • Lack of redundancies. Unlike commercial airliners, helicopters typically have fewer backup systems. A single failure can have a more significant impact on the aircraft’s operation and safety.
  • Low altitude flying. Helicopter tours often involve flying at low altitudes to provide better views. This increases the risk of colliding with obstacles like buildings, trees, or power lines.
  • Turbulence and wind shear. Flying close to terrain or in areas with varying wind patterns can lead to turbulence and wind shear, making the helicopter difficult to control.
  • Limited emergency landing options. Helicopters have limited landing options compared to airplanes, especially in urban or densely wooded areas. In case of an emergency, finding a safe place to land can be challenging.
  • Terrain challenges. Helicopter tours sometimes take place in remote or rugged areas, which can pose challenges for landing and navigation.
  • Piloting errors. Mistakes in navigation, judgment, or control, can lead to accidents. Pilots may face challenges when navigating tricky terrains or sudden changes in weather.
  • Fatigue and human factors. Pilots, like any individuals, can experience fatigue, stress, or distractions that may impact their performance during the flight. In some cases, the tourists themselves are allowed to take control of the helicopter, which (while they may be under the supervision of a trained pilot) can lead to severe mistakes.

To mitigate these risks, helicopter tour companies should adhere to strict safety protocols, including regular maintenance, pilot training, and weather assessments. Potential passengers should research tour operators, consider their safety records, and ask about their safety procedures before booking a helicopter tour.

What injuries are caused by helicopter accidents?

Helicopter crashes can result in a wide range of injuries, varying in severity based on factors such as the impact force, angle of impact, speed, and the safety measures in place.

Some common and often catastrophic injuries sustained from helicopter crashes include:

  • Traumatic brain injuries (TBI). The impact of a crash can lead to head injuries ranging from concussions to more severe traumatic brain injuries. TBIs can have lasting effects on cognitive, sensory, and motor functions.
  • Spinal cord injuries. The force of impact can cause spinal cord injuries, leading to paralysis or loss of sensation in different parts of the body.
  • Fractures and broken bones. The abrupt stop or impact can result in fractures or broken bones, especially in areas like limbs, ribs, and the pelvis.
  • Soft tissue injuries. Soft tissue injuries include contusions, sprains, strains, and tears in muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
  • Internal injuries. The force of impact can cause internal injuries, such as organ damage, internal bleeding, or damage to blood vessels.
  • Burn injuries. Helicopter crashes can lead to fires upon impact, resulting in burn injuries of varying degrees.
  • Lacerations and abrasions. Broken glass, debris, and sharp objects in the crash can cause cuts, lacerations, and abrasions.
  • Amputations. Severe crashes can result in traumatic amputations of limbs due to the force of impact or entanglement.
  • Smoke inhalation and toxic exposure. If a crash leads to fires or hazardous material leaks, survivors may sustain injuries from smoke inhalation or exposure to toxic substances.
  • Whiplash and neck injuries. The sudden impact of a crash can cause whiplash and neck injuries, resulting in pain and limited mobility.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Survivors of helicopter crashes, as well as witnesses, may experience emotional and psychological trauma leading to PTSD.

The severity and type of injuries can vary widely based on factors specific to each crash. Survivors of helicopter crashes may require immediate medical attention, long-term rehabilitation, and psychological support to recover physically and emotionally from their injuries.

Unfortunately, due to the circumstances of a helicopter crash, many victims do not survive the accident. In that case, filing a wrongful death lawsuit can ensure that the costs of the funeral and damages are covered, and handle all the stressful and complex paperwork involved in the legal process.

How a San Antonio aviation accident attorney can help

Our legal team possesses extensive experience in investigating these unfortunate accidents. With dedicated efforts, we tirelessly advocate for our clients, ensuring they receive the justice they deserve. We approach our work with knowledge and dedication, equipped with the necessary resources to pursue compensation from accountable parties. This allows victims and their families to concentrate on the potentially prolonged and emotionally challenging recovery process.

If you or a loved one have sustained injuries in a helicopter accident, it’s essential to have adept legal representation. Reach out to the Law Offices of Pat Maloney for help in securing the compensation you deserve. Our firm boasts the required proficiency and resources – connect with us today. Feel free to call our San Antonio offices or complete our contact form to schedule a free consultation and a confidential assessment of your case.