Home of Professional Cinematography since 1996

Helicopter Safety

>Published : 6th October 2008

>"I've had the seat belt buckle come undone in a helicopter when shooting handheld out of the door, it gives you a nasty surprise at the time."

>David Perrault, CSC : "This is no way to do this. Full harness with accessible carabineers for emergency release are a much safer way to go. An open helicopter door is a really dumb place to start your career as a rigger."

>I would have to honestly agree. I've shot in several situations hand held in a helicopter when the pilot had to bank considerably to keep me on station in brisk winds (sports). I have been able to continue to shoot through such a manoeuvre only because of a full harness. Low altitude (250') work wouldn't even allow you to say "oh $h%+" before you hit the deck.

>Seatbelts, taped or otherwise, should be left for aircraft with all the doors attached.

>Tim Kolb
Director/Editor (...and yes, sometimes a credible videographer)
Neenah WI USA


class="style18">>>....they were chartered for filming work and were informed of the requirements....

>Once again... To be tedious...

>Forget about the regulatory blather. Hire experienced riggers and make things safe. Serious rigging is usually _much_more safe than what the government agency in question might specify.

>Make safe.

>David Perrault, CSC


>Agreed, Tim - I shot my first aerials over Racine, Wis as a teenager from a two-seater Cessna, hanging out the window. As an adult with more sense now, I use nothing less than a full harness- gusts and downdrafts DO happen!

>Jason M Wallace
Gaffer and occasional white-knuckled operator ..


>Jason Wallace wrote:

class="style18">>>Agreed, Tim- I shot my first aerials over Racine, Wis as a teenager from a two-seater Cessna, >>hanging out the window.

>Thanks! Now I don't feel completely dumb admitting that I did my 2nd helicopter shoot handheld flying through the Houston skyscrapers (read up and down and cross drafts) in a Jet Ranger with only a seat belt across one leg. I had two feet outside on the pod-support and we shot for 40 minutes non-stop with an Ikegami 79 tethered to a Sony UMatic deck. When I finally turned inside the helicopter and looked at my tape op, he was wide eyed and frozen in a grimace of pure fear and panic. It was then that I realized how dumb it was.

>I've done lots more helicopter since then including with my steadicam and a 25-250 lens on an Arri 3 over the Venice lagoon and a handheld Aaton through the mountain jungles of New Guinea. But after the one crashed on the Chevy commercial 2 years ago in Lancaster, Ca. I refuse to go up. ( I didn't go up on that one!)

>Roberto Schaefer, asc


class="style18">>>"I've had the seat belt buckle come undone in a helicopter when shooting handheld out of the door, >>it gives you a nasty surprise at the time."

>While it can happen, relatively speaking, very few people fall out of aircraft. On the other hand, many people have died after surviving a crash because they either could not extricate themselves or because other survivors were unable to effect a rescue. Neal Fredericks' tragic death comes to mind.

>As far as belts and harnesses are concerned, there are many companies making all kinds of airworthy safety harnesses and belts suitable for securing someone into an aircraft while allowing various degrees of freedom of movement -- even to the point of dangling below the aircraft.

>So please, use what ever type of safety belt or body harness that makes you feel secure, just be sure that it is approved for aircraft use and that you or a rescuer can easily release it with one hand -- and don't tape the latch.

>Brian Heller
IA 600 DP


>Roberto Schaefer wrote:

>> >But after the one crashed on the Chevy commercial 2 years ago in Lancaster, Ca. I refuse to go up. >>( I didn't go up on that one!)

>In 1982 at Garrett Brown's Steadicam Class he gave me a piece of advice.

>He told me to stay out of helicopters as he'd lost too many friends in them. I took this advice to heart and it saved my life on at least two occasions.

>Please be careful if must do this and wear appropriate safety gear.

>Seat belts do not qualify, taped or not, and standing on the skids while hand holding a camera is just plain dumb.

>You laugh, but I've seen stills of two different people doing this with no safety gear at all, not even a strap.

>No matter how great a movie is, it's not worth dying for.

>Safety first.

>Dan Kneece, SOC President
Los Angeles, California


>I believe this has been covered before but the FAA has type certificates foe each and every aircraft covering the gear and safety equipment to be used on that particular fixed or rotary wing. If the pilot has no clue do not get on. As a commercial Pilot he or she should know and be aware of anything his or her particular vehicle is "Typed" for. And should be able to show the documentation for same if he/she cant he/she is not legal. So all the talk of what we would do or use is actually moot since the Feds have already predetermined what we can use and we cannot deviate from it if we want our insurance to be useful and stay free of fines for ourselves and the pilots we work with.

>Gerard Brigante Cam. Operator
and former pilot NJ


>Hi Dan,

class="style18">"And standing on the skids while hand holding a camera is just plain dumb"

>I confess I've done this, but only on a UH-1 (big). That was with my body anchored to the side of the chopper, though. I've also done it harnessed in such that I am standing on the skids shooting back into the UH-1. That's probably the one that would make everybody's hair stand on end. But this was not without plenty of prep time, my own harness and safety rigging, redundant checking of the rigging by a grip I trust, personally knowing and trusting the pilot, and understanding very well the flying to be done. I must say, I was quite secure and comfortable throughout this process then.

>I would say that a major element to this type of work is the experience of the pilot. There is a core group of pilots that do this kind of work really well. Amongst them, I'm very comfortable. Occasionally, I've been at distant locations where the pilot was not an experienced film pilot. In those cases, I only was able to do the job after evaluating their abilities in flight. I even will rehearse the pilot a couple of times on a run until I am satisfied he is on top of things. At times like this, I may not even look through the camera or watch the monitor as I watch how they fly. In those cases, I reached a comfort level that I could work with. Here is a very big factor in that, though: I am a very experienced pilot myself with thousands of hours in military fighters. I can very quickly evaluate a pilot's safety sense and how he is handling task loading. We ask pilots to do things which are a little out of the norm for aviation. The guys from that core group of film pilots are all over it. Pilots inexperienced with film flying are given a new situations which can be distracting. If I did not have the experience I do as a pilot, I don't think I would fly with anyone other than the core film pilots.

>"No matter how great a movie is, it's not worth dying for." Absolutely true!! If you don't like the way things are stacking up, anyone and everyone can make the safety call to abort and regroup.

>Regarding safety gear, I would not count on production to have any safety gear! Yep, our safety coursed said it is their responsibility, but they haven't a clue. That said, you can call the folks that run the safety courses we all took, and they can direct you to the companies and experts that sell safety harnesses, etc. The stunt guys use a lot of that kind of gear. Deitz is a popular brand.

>Randy Feemster, SOC
L.A.-based DP and Operator


class="style18">>>Even so, sitting with a helicopter mount surrounded by swinging metalwork is not the best place to >>be in a crashing helicopter.

>True. But at least a helicopter mount that has CAA (or equivalent) approval is safer than a lash-up with bungies etc.

>I too have lost too many friends in aviation relates accidents. I really used to enjoy it and flew a lot. But even with all the safety aspects in place, risks are somewhat high

>And yes, it's Rule 1. No shot is worth taking risks.

>"There are old cameramen. There are bold cameramen. But there aren't any old, bold cameramen."

>Brian Rose
UK Based


class="style18">>>The pilot also provided the safety strap for the camera.

>With all due respect: let the pilot fly and let the safety rigger rig.

>Hire professionals. Particularly in life threatening situations.

>David Perrault, CSC


>David Perrault wrote:

class="style18">>>Forget about the regulatory blather. Hire experienced riggers and make things safe. Serious >>rigging is usually _much_ more safe than what the government agency in question might specify.

>Serious rigging certainly can be much more safe than what the government agency in question might specify.

>FAA regulations usually stipulate minimums.

>However, to "Forget about the regulatory blather is another matter especially when something goes terribly wrong. Then the headline reads: "People killed in helicopter crash. Unlicensed/uncertified rigging seen as possible cause."

>Oh, and by the way, the insurance company called: they say that according to section 5, paragraph 6 of their policy that they are not liable for any payments if any FAA regulations were not followed, and, btw, if someone is killed, the pilot may be up on an involuntary manslaughter charge.

>Make safe -- and make legal.

>Brian Heller
IA 600 DP


>Brian Drysdale wrote:

class="style18">>>Just out curiosity, is there a set of statistics on the causes of accidents during aerial filming?

>Yes, the US National Transportation Safety Board investigates, reports, and records information on every single accident or incident involving aircraft that occurs in the US, or US jurisdictions. Likewise on all incidents involving US manufactured aircraft that occur outside the US.

>Go to : http://www.ntsb.gov/ntsb/query.asp

class="style18">>>Also, on the accident rates compared to other aerial work, for example air display, air racing, crop >>spraying etc.

>See above. You will have to do some searching, I don't think film related accidents is a specific category -- the set is designed for aviation types, but it's fairly straightforward to follow the search prompts.

>Brian Heller
IA 600 DP


>I should point out that the tape used on this hand held shoot was provided by the helicopter pilot. It was a single layer of 1/2" PVC insulating tape, which is easily broken with a sharp tuck.

>No way would I use gaffer tape, camera tape or duct tape and normally I don't use any tape. In this instance, this insulating tape appeared a good balance between two risks.

>The pilot also provided the safety strap for the camera.

>Even so, sitting with a helicopter mount surrounded by swinging metalwork is not the best place to be in a crashing helicopter.

>Brian Drysdale
DP & Steadicam
Belfast


>In this case the safety rigger was the pilot, they were chartered for filming work and were informed of the requirements. In this instance, it didn't involve the fitting a camera mount, which they've done in the past.

>There are CAA regulations and I'd expect them to comply.

>Brian Drysdale
DP & Steadicam
Belfast


>Having held a PPL and known two fixed wing pilots (one a test pilot) who have been killed and know a glider pilot who was nearly killed, I most certainly regard aerial filming as a hazardous activity. All aircraft, if pushed, will bite.

>Just out curiosity, is there a set of statistics on the causes of accidents during aerial filming? Also, on the accident rates compared to other aerial work, for example air display, air racing, crop spraying etc.

>Brian Drysdale
DP & Steadicam
Belfast


>Thanks.

>Interesting mix of reasons amongst the accidents I could find. The expected low level flying ones, then the various mechanical issues and contaminated fuel. Also, running out of fuel.

>Brian Drysdale
DP & Steadicam
Belfast



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