Air Beat Magazine: November - December 2004


November - December 2004

17 Seconds
Anatomy of a Successful Failure

Air Safety Detectives
Building Accident Investigation Teams

Aviation Safety 101: Reality Check

Diverse Missions
New York City’s 
Department of Environmental Protection Police Aviation Unit

Responding to Aircraft 
Accidents and Incidents:
The Hazards & Initial Considerations for 
First Responders At A Crash Scene

Mishap Checklists

17 Seconds
Anatomy of a Successful Failure

by Bill Probets
East Bay Regional Parks Police

There are few aviation units that do not face constant financial scrutiny. This has become increasingly true in recent times as units struggle with ever deepening budget cuts. Driven by our ethic as airborne law enforcement professionals, we struggle to reduce costs wherever possible to avoid impacting operational availability. Unfortunately, one of the sacrifices too readily thrown onto the fiscal altar is crew training.

The objective of any training is to ensure we are successful in a particular task or operation. If the operation is non-essential, then it may be prudent to suspend that activity until proper training can resume. This could include missions such as SWAT or K9 insertion, hover stepping, or long line. 

Emergency procedures must never fall into this category. There must be an organizational commitment to maintain crew proficiency in all emergency procedures appropriate to the missions being conducted. Note the emphasis on proficiency rather than currency. Flying at night requires that we should be proficient in all emergency procedures at night. Crews routinely flying over water should be competent in ditching and underwater egress and be wearing the correct ALS equipment. Can anyone articulate a convincing reason why this should be the case? Aside from the liability issues raised, do we not owe it to our families, our children and to each other? 

Crews and organizations should fully recognize the consequences of a failure to adequately train. Making that recognition too often becomes obscured by insidious factors such as long-term complacency, inadequate leadership, lack of relevant education, or most inexcusable of all, a macho attitude. Files of the NTSB are filled with reports that reflect these failures. 

The litmus test of any training program should be how a crew responds to a real event or failure. Thankfully, most of us will never face more than an errant chip light and will not have to deal with one of those "what if?" situations. Statistics suggest, however, that there will be crews reading this who eventually will be challenged by their aircraft in a most dramatic way. Not surprisingly, many of us ask ourselves, what will it be like? How will I perform? To determine if we are adequately prepared and therefore proficient, it is essential to understand the challenge. 

The following real life incident occurred on 17 March 2001. It is not shared as a "war story" and certainly not a claim of ability. It is shared simply in the hope that it may bring some insight into what a true emergency is like, that as a result someone may train a little harder or with more frequency. It is shared in the hope that a unit manager will realize the true implications of denying training budget requests. Pause for a moment and imagine you are the pilot during this severe emergency procedure.

Ninety-six minutes into the second flight of your shift, you, along with your TFO and a civilian ride-a-long, respond to another "man with a gun" call. It is late on a cool and still March evening. The air is smooth as you begin to orbit over the grim neighborhood scene. The darkness below is randomly broken by the dull glow of old streetlights. Cars and trucks rush silently by on a nearby freeway. The mission is going to require the FLIR and searchlight so you reduce airspeed to 65 knots, leveling off at 600 feet above the chaos below. 

You constantly adjust aircraft trim to ease the workload on your TFO and hold the scene steady for him. The chatter on the tactical radios fill your ears while you concentrate on monitoring the ATC radios. You acknowledge a call from the control tower nearby. Your eyes scan the night for the flashing red and white strobes of a passing airplane while you position the helicopter, keeping that left skid out of the FLIR frame. You know how that irritates your TFO. You check the gauges and calculate your fuel. You constantly assess your position relative to the crime scene and review your surroundings. You watch above and to the side for aircraft, below for your escape should your engine fail. You study your options should such an emergency arise. Residential streets abound, a black void below, that busy freeway, and a parking lot to the west. Not the best of emergency conditions—but workable—so you rationalize, what are the odds?

Ground units start to break down the perimeter and you are released from the fray. Suppressing your irritation that the maggot got away, you gently roll out of the orbit, starting your inbound turn to the airport. It is time to head back and refuel. Time to take a break, time to reheat that pizza. Time to—

You have 17 seconds to live or die.

The aircraft falls from under you, yaws right and pitches downward. The generator light illuminates with a sickening yellow brightness. For an instant, you look at it with surprise and denial when the engine oil pressure light burns into your retina like a tiny red window to hell. The wail of a loud horn slaps you out of your momentary daze. What has gone wrong?

Just feet behind you a small and intricate gear has kept its secret long enough. It has shattered instantly into a dozen jagged pieces and fallen uselessly to the bottom of the gearbox. The engine has failed suddenly, completely and without any warning.
Without conscious thought, your training awakens to face the challenge. Thousands of autorotations as an instructor and years of teaching are condensed into a single moment. They come together as your allies. Muscle memory carries you through the next two seconds while your brain rushes to comprehend. Your left arm lowers the collective without mental instruction as your right hand pulls back the cyclic. Your feet dance on the pedals to correct the yaw. But you’re too slow. This isn’t like it was in training.

You have 15 seconds to live or die.

Your amygdala gland reacts as Mother Nature intended and stimulates your hypothalamus, causing a chain reaction. Adrenalin surges through your body. Your muscles tense and your eyes succumb to primeval conditioning. Your peripheral vision narrows quickly, and you see only straight ahead. Your body enters a debate of fight or flight. Tonight you will fight.

Your brain finally catches up. Training and experience leave you no doubt that rotor RPM and airspeed are perilously low. Your mind acknowledges this and displays it like a mental flash card. Your training gives you the solution. You turn hard and dive knowing you must recover both, or die. You gladly accept the price you pay in altitude.

The low RPM horn falls silent. You instantly feel a small glimmer of hope. You may have a chance to win the fight. Rotor RPM is within the safe range. But your brain computes your descent and closure rates, and it tells you there is not enough time to refocus your eyes, to locate and read your airspeed or rotor rpm indicators. It tells you that you don’t have the time to waste. You set aircraft attitude for the correct airspeed. You sense the collective position and cyclic response. The aircraft feels right. Rotor RPM feels good. You are in trim. Your training and experience taught you that.

You have 12 seconds to live or die.

Your mind shifts quickly to the next threat. You scan for a landing zone that is safe and achievable. That freeway? You instantly dismiss it as vehicles rush menacingly along its tempting lanes of concrete. You select another spot, accepting the hazards, knowing the choice has to be made instantly. You plan your approach. You know what to do next. Your training and experience taught you that.

You have 10 seconds to live or die. 

You have complied with vital laws of aviation survival. Aviate then navigate. You take another sharp breath, squeeze the cyclic switch in your right hand. "Mayday, mayday, mayday. Eagle 6. Engine failure." You try to sound professional, to do it exactly how you had been taught all those years ago as a fledgling pilot. But that was just training. Now you are saying it for real, wondering, just for an instant, if these words are going to be your last.

You have 6 seconds to live or die.

The horn beeps intrusively, signaling that rotor RPM is creeping too high. Inducing a gentle increase in collective and a check on pitch attitude comes as your trained response. 
You search rapidly for another possible threat. You see one. Wires in your path. Your mind evaluates with the clarity of a computer as you continue slightly increasing collective to fly over them. Training reminds you to maintain airspeed and, above all, conserve rotor RPM.

You have 4 seconds to live or die.

You start to flare the aircraft. More hazards emerge in rapid succession. Street lamp in your rotor tip path—you sideslip and pull short. Sidewalk and high curb hazard—more sideslip and flare. Grass and concrete landing surface below, house to right—you assess the gap and adjust your flare again. Power lines snare you like a giant spider web—you fight them off as best you can.

You have 2 seconds to live or die.

You re-evaluate constantly. Training and experience provide instant solutions. You swerve, adjust collective, work the pedals, flare and sideslip. You fly the aircraft by feel and touch. You never stop fighting until you set it precisely where you need it.

The clock stops.

You are on the ground and alive. You look at your TFO, then to the civilian ride-a-long in the back seat. Her eyes are wide, her teeth clenched in fearful anticipation. You remember a safety seminar from a decade ago that emphasized outside hazards. You order them to remain seated, sensing the danger. Live power cables roll and flash outside the doors. Three lives saved. Your training and experience taught you that. 

Fire and paramedic units arrive quickly and pandemonium ensues. All you want to do is walk to a quiet place and be alone. That will have to wait. For now you have to answer a barrage of questions and resist the urge to injure the next person who asks about fuel. You hope your hands will eventually stop shaking. Your training and experience never mentioned that.

No injuries were sustained in this incident. The aircraft suffered significant damage to the tail boom but was repaired and is now back in service. 

Thankfully, we did not allow the successful outcome the emergency procedure to automatically validate our existing program. We made a number of changes, which in retrospect should have been obvious. All units should routinely question themselves on the adequacy of their training and the experience level of their crews. If operational limitations are considered necessary, they should be implemented and adhered to until appropriate standards are achieved. Let us all strive for the highest standards. The cost of a failure is certainly too high.

Air Safety Detectives
Building Accident Investigation Teams

by Rick Lawin
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Aircraft accident investigation is a complex and comprehensive endeavor, which ultimately falls under the legal purview of the NTSB. No longer can public service agencies simply sweep accident debris into the hangar and arbitrarily exempt themselves from FAR Part 830.

Everyone knows there are inherent dangers in enforcing the law from the ground. And, when you add the intricacy of flight to law enforcement, the likelihood of an accident only increases.

For this reason, airborne law enforcement agencies may consider creating their own aircraft accident investigation team. A mishap investigation team can prove beneficial in the unlikely event of an accident, because specific issues can be identified that may be valuable to the unit involved. Also, the training and experience of the accident investigation team can be utilized in other areas, including incident review and tracking, and trend monitoring from an overall unit safety perspective. However, the accident findings of the unit's team will not represent the official United States government's determination as to probable cause of the accident. 

Some historical perspective on air safety, as well as a few investigative concepts, may assist in the decision to develop an accident investigation team. Today, many public service aviation units have excellent safety/accident investigation programs. 

Unfortunately, this was not always the case and often the exception rather than the rule. 
Until the early 1990s, airborne units had some interpretive latitude regarding National Transportation Safety Board investigations of a unit accident. In those times, a letter of request was often required before the NTSB would investigate a public service accident. In some instances, public agencies opted to conduct their own investigations. This led to occasional conflicts of interest, limited investigations, incorrect assessments and some management influence on the cited cause of mishaps. 

Even the definition of an accident could be influenced by the concerned agency with respect to the United States Code definitions found in Part 830, "Notification and Reporting of Aircraft Accidents."

These operational latitudes, coupled with several specific accidents, ultimately led to Congressional review. The basic question asked was, "Why should any public service aircraft be exempt from the mandated federal air safety regulations applied to the civil aviation community?" The Congressional solution was a direct one. The Federal Aviation Administration was to become more involved in public service operations, with NTSB authority clearly defined regarding incidents and accidents. 

However, the fact that the NTSB now investigates public service accidents begs the question as to why an agency should expend time and effort creating an in-house accident investigation team.

There are two safety management concepts—proactive and reactive. 
Obviously, the preponderance of a unit’s time, effort and funding should be directed towards the proactive disciplines of accident prevention. The old adage "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" rings exceptionally true in aviation safety. Prevention includes, but is not limited to, continued training, proper equipment, safety leadership and education, along with other contemporary and relevant programs. 

A reactive safety program is, unfortunately, where lessons are painfully learned from factors sifted from accident wreckage. Error chains, the sequence of events leading to an accident, are generally seen with pristine clarity after the accident. Valuable information can be gleaned from an accident--and this is the best reason for creating an in-house accident investigation team--but often at a hefty consequence. No matter how tenacious efforts are to make a system safe, human error can never be entirely removed. The need to properly and objectively learn from accidents then becomes paramount in the prevention of similar accidents. This is the mission of the NTSB-aviation safety.

The NTSB is an independent agency, not part of the FAA, congressionally mandated to investigate and determine cause(s) of rail, marine, pipeline and aviation accidents. It is also responsible for making non-binding recommendations to prevent such accidents from reoccurring. Yet another function of the NTSB is to serve as the nation's repository for accident reports and safety data. An absence of public service aviation safety data deprives not only airborne law enforcement, but the entire aviation community of trends and safety records regarding unique operations in the public service sector. An understanding of past accidents serves to enhance the awareness of risks and hazards. 

An aviation incident becomes an accident as defined by Part 830. For instance, imagine an aircraft lands with excessive speed, fails to stop at the end of the runway, crashes and is destroyed. The event became an accident at the point where the plane was damaged or the occupant(s) were injured to a level defined by FAR Part 830. The probable cause might be determined to be a loss of command in controlling the aircraft. 

The NTSB would then investigate further and determine why there was a loss of command of the aircraft. The words "pilot error" reveal very little as to cause. The NTSB strives to define the issues that triggered errors. Those errors could be inactions, omissions, crew factors, weather, mechanical failure or a combination thereof. The point here is to determine cause, not to blame the accident on a specific individual. Cause consists of elements and factors that create an accident. Once identified, hopefully, they can be corrected. Blame serves only to hold someone or some agency ultimately responsible. The job of accident investigation is to discover cause. Blame is left for the litigants.

Airborne law enforcement and fire fighting encompass an operational environment in which risks and hazards are constantly evolving and being weighed against benefits derived from knowledge of them. 

Expertise in these specific aviation fields is required to fully understand the cause and effect relationships that may result in accidents. For this reason, an airborne law enforcement unit may want trained air safety personnel to act as liaison to the NTSB, should the unit suffer an accident. Also, it is likely the first aviation personnel to arrive at the scene of a public service accident will be members of the unit involved. This in itself is justification to develop a cadre of trained "air accident detectives." 

As with any crime scene, the officers first-at-scene can make or break the successful outcome of the investigation. The unit accident investigation team must therefore possess a basic understanding of the techniques of proper aircraft accident investigation. An investigative team may be dispatched simply to assist the NTSB, however, knowing what and what not to do can assist in discovering key factors associated with the mishap.

Accident investigation training encompasses a broad spectrum of disciplines. No one article, reference or training course will create an accident investigator or team. It is best to start with an overview of the basic tasks encountered in accident investigation. From this perspective, a more comprehensive training program can evolve. Suffice to say any officer or supervisor designated as an accident investigator must possess a comprehensive knowledge of aircraft, aviation, operations, maintenance, witness interviewing and writing skills. It is impossible for one person to be an expert in all fields. Therefore, an accident investigation team must be made up of members with a breadth of expertise, including qualified maintenance personnel. During post-mishap analysis, the concerned unit may wish to retain the services of personnel specifically trained, educated and qualified in disciplines of metal analysis, crash dynamics, human factors, etc. However, such esoteric and potentially expensive expertise may not be needed considering NTSB involvement. Ultimately, the complexity of the accident will dictate the need for further services. A critical aspect of the investigation is the immediate arrival of a qualified accident response team. 

Responding to an aviation mishap can be fraught with chaos. There is a chance of further injury to victims and first responders, as well as the potential loss of crucial evidence. This is where an Accident Response Checklist should be utilized to ensure actions are conducted in a safe, orderly and effective manner. 

For first responders to an aircraft accident, there is a need to separate the imperatives from the priorities. The imperatives at scene are the welfare of victims and responders, preservation of the scene, and collection of evidence.  There should be no compromise on the order of these imperatives. And there is no easy way to move through those imperatives without training and the aid of a checklist. Common sense dictates that the Accident Response Checklist be comprehensive and have immediate resource notification procedures. No individual can or should be responsible for all of the dynamics of an accident scenario. This reinforces the justification for a team response. 

The job of on-scene investigators is to follow checklists, preserve, observe and record. One does not go to the scene to "solve the accident" or render an opinion as to what might have caused the mishap. 

The investigators involved must don "3-D" glasses that provide a view of the accident through discipline, diligence, and discretion. Public service investigators, no matter how well trained, are not on scene to find the "golden nugget" of cause. Knowledge, methodical procedures and a sense of curiosity are tools utilized to identify factors that may be part of the causation puzzle. 

Communications is also a critical area that will aid in the efficiency of the investigation. This involves the integration of command posts and liaison with the FAA, Medical Examiner, and other forensic experts that may be required at the scene. The NTSB is charged with the overall investigative responsibility of the accident and thus will determine the level and category of expertise needed for that investigation. Therefore, any movement of wreckage or evidence should be coordinated with the NTSB barring imminent and extreme hazards to public welfare.

The unit investigation team works in conjunction with the NTSB. This is somewhat analogous to the NTSB Party Process, where specialized expertise and resources are invited to participate in the investigation. However, it must be reemphasized that the NTSB retains final authority on most matters regarding the accident. In some cases, the NTSB may delegate or coordinate investigative efforts with the FAA and the concerned public agency. The more professional and organized the public service investigation team is, the greater the likelihood of assisting in particular aspects of the investigation. 

Another element of the investigation is following the paper trail. The importance of capturing all relevant paperwork regarding the aircraft, operations and crew cannot be overemphasized. This includes securing aircraft/crew logbooks, fueling sheets, training records, flight plans and other documents. This task must be accomplished immediately after the mishap. More often than not, factors involved in accident error chains are discovered in the mass of paperwork and documents.

Once all evidence has been examined and the investigation is complete, the NTSB will submit a report to the Safety Board in Washington D.C. The report may offer a simple statement of cause, or it may be an in-depth examination of all factors. That determination is based on the complexities of the accident. Regardless, the report will take months to complete, as it is inevitably one of many accident reports filed by the NTSB. The NTSB report is the official government document regarding the accident and cause. Whether the concerned public agency completes an internal report is at the discretion of that agency's management. The internal report, if not completed correctly, can become the subject of tremendous controversy and a briar patch of costly litigation.

Management must decide if the internal document should be a report of cause or blame. As previously stated, cause is based on the collection of facts that led to the mishap. A fact is something that can be proven and remains constant through repeated testing. Stating that the probable cause of an accident, for example, was the "fact" that the pilot-in-command didn't sleep well the night before and thus allowed the plane to run off the end of the runway isn't appropriate. That's tough to prove with any certainty. However, investigators could unequivocally state there was a loss of control of the aircraft which led to the accident. From that point, investigators may apply the "5M Concept" to examine the machine, medium, mission, man and management involved in the accident to eliminate or establish causal factors. Even then, without corroborating evidence, citing "lack of sleep" might only be posed as a contributing factor. An air safety report must contain facts that can be analyzed and distilled into a logical pattern leading to a conclusion and probable cause. The word "probable" is applied, as the cause can never be determined with 100 percent certainty. 

Some internal public service accident reports may, for whatever reason, integrate blame into the cause. The report may include analysis on how an accident could have been prevented if safety items had been retained in the budget, or if certain individuals or management had acted differently. Citing blame, omitting certain facts, and generating tangential commentaries have no place in the accident investigation reports.

Management must be prepared to defend its internal reports if causes differ from those presented by the NTSB. The more detailed the report, the more effort that might be required to defend elements in the report. This, however, should not be a deterrent to completing a comprehensive document. It simply mandates a factual report absent conflicts of interests, bias or shadows of false pretenses. 

Aircraft accident investigation is a complex and comprehensive endeavor which ultimately falls under the legal purview of the NTSB. No longer can public service agencies simply sweep accident debris into the hangar and arbitrarily exempt themselves from US Code Part 830. But airborne law enforcement has the option of establishing an accident investigation team to assist the NTSB in discovering the true causes behind an aviation accident. This is a good thing. After all, safety is everyone’s business. 

Rick Lawin is an aviation safety instructor for Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and former helicopter/ airplane pilot-CFI and air safety investigator for the Los Angeles Police Department. He can be reached at

Aviation Safety 101:
Reality Check

By Jay Fuller

This issue of Air Beat covers the most burdensome part of our business—what to do after an accident. The information you gain is relevant to safety; in fact, defining and documenting these procedures is typically an administrative responsibility of the safety officer. Every organization must have a post accident plan. However, our most important job is to insure that this material never has to be used. The safety officer should annually review and update this plan. For this reason, I'd like to refresh some of the topics covered in "Safety 101" and reaffirm for everyone why law enforcement aviation needs safety programs.

Pilots, generally as a group, are not worriers. Individuals in law enforcement who seize the initiative and are willing to take chances to achieve objectives gravitate into this part of the aviation business. Crewmembers in tactical airborne aviation work have a high risk tolerance, but taking unnecessary risks is intolerable. 
The superb pilot is the one who uses his or her superb judgment to avoid encountering those situations that require their superb skills. The caution officers incorporate while on the road must be increased tenfold while in an aviation unit. Safety programs can coordinate and sustain the efforts necessary to maintain realistic attitudes.

We aren't driving trooper cars here.
A minor ding in an aircraft can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars to repair, and an accident can run into six figures. These are big numbers for any police organization and will quickly gain unwanted attention from upper level management. Further, for all but the largest units, operational capability will be reduced for some period by any incident. And, it isn't just dollars, many aviation units have been disbanded due to costly accidents. If you want to keep costs low and stay in the air, you have to conduct safe operations.

Law enforcement agencies are largely exempt from liabilities incurred during police actions, but we aren't bulletproof. We still represent public agencies which the public perceives to have deep pockets. If an aircraft accident occurs and there is any public impact, especially if the potential for negligence exists, the aviation unit as well as the parent organization is wide open for a lawsuit.

Public Perception
Aviation is inherently high visibility, much more so than ground operations. 
If we're involved in a visible police action, it's guaranteed our aircraft will be on the 6 o'clock news. This unfortunately goes double for accidents. Any accident is going to be subject to public review, and this will reflect badly on the entire police organization. Aviation is a great addition to the force, but if we don't operate safely, we can also do more damage faster than ground operations any day.

Mission Complexity
Law enforcement is not airline flying. Extensive low altitude operations, lots of takeoffs and landings, single pilot flying, high mission focus and task saturation are routine components of a law enforcement aviation mission. Throw in nighttime, a little weather or the possibility of adversarial actions, and you have the highest hazard aviation environment possible. Even combat flight operations don't exceed the risk factors inherent in some police aviation missions. 
If you find yourself feeling too comfortable, then it's time to re-evaluate the mission risks. Defined operating standards and mission constraints will keep you straight when in a complex environment. 

Industry Standard
Law enforcement is different than other factions of aviation. However, if an accident occurs and we come under review by the FAA and our own organization, we are going to be compared to other professional flying organizations such as the airlines, the military, and corporate flight departments. These organizations all have very active safety programs, and we'll only suffer by comparison.

Probably the least important reason for safety programs, and appreciated mostly by supervisors, but it is always nice to have answers and identifiable efforts in place when that after-accident review occurs. 

Specific Dangers 
A study by the FBI indicated that between 1989 and 1998, the second leading work-related cause of death for law enforcement officers is aircraft accidents. Considering all the high risk duty performed by police personnel and the relatively low amount of aviation activity, this is sobering.

Reality Check
The purpose of safety programs is to eliminate mishaps, and that means both accidents and incidents. Is this realistic? Is it realistic to think we can operate our aircraft in a tactical environment without having any accidents? 

For the small law enforcement aviation unit or for the large unit over a finite period of time, the answer is yes. Whether you are an individual aircraft crewmember, maintainer or manager, accidents should be considered unacceptable. All possible efforts to prevent them should be made by all personnel all the time. 

Aviation safety programs and standards work! Get your unit involved in the APSA "Safety First" Program. One of the primary advantages to APSA membership is the ability to share experiences and ideas with other law enforcement aviation units and personnel. 

The Safety First program provides the opportunity for expert feedback, as well as recognition for those units making outstanding achievements in accident elimination.

Diverse Missions
New York City’s 
Department of Environmental Protection Police 
Aviation Unit

By Lt. Robert Wisker

New York City’s water supply system provides approximately 1.3 billion gallons of safe drinking water daily to over eight million residents of New York City, to one million people living north of the City and to millions of commuters and tourists who visit the city every day. In all, the system has 1,972 square miles of watershed, almost 300 miles of aqueduct, 19 reservoirs, three controlled lakes and hundreds of ancillary structures supplying water to nearly half of the state’s population. Much of the land owned by New York City is open to the public for fishing, boating, hiking and hunting, and to date, over 77,000 land-use permits have been issued to those who use and enjoy it, most of them responsibly. 

The job of protecting this massive infrastructure of dams, reservoirs and aqueducts from criminal and environmental threats, in addition to protecting the employees who work on them and the public who live near and use them, falls on the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Police Division. Complicating matters is the enormously different terrain encountered from the urban streets of New York City stretching to the farthest reaches of the watershed 125 miles northwest of the City into the deep forests of the Catskill Mountains. 

The 210 members of the DEP Environmental Police perform their jobs on foot patrol, motorcycles, cars, 4x4, ATV, patrol boats and, for the past five years, by air. For years, the suggestion of adding aviation as an intricate part of patrol work was debated, but inevitably the cost and complexity of running an aviation unit ended the conversation. Alternatives were looked at, such as interagency or intra-municipal agreements for aerial patrol, but these proved ineffective and were cumbersome for agencies that would be expected to make multiple patrols each week in regions not normally patrolled by them, taking time away from their primary area of responsibility. The more the unit looked, the more it became clear that to properly patrol the New York City water system from the air, a dedicated aviation unit as part of the DEP Environmental Police would be needed.

Unfortunately, none of the aviation unit members had extensive flying experience. But they have a strong belief in what could be accomplished. Finally, in 1999, after years of persistence (and a changed administration) someone listened and the Environmental Police began a trial program utilizing a part-time leased helicopter to patrol the aqueducts and remote regions not readily accessible by foot or vehicle. The department had decided that a helicopter was the most practical and versatile airship for our application, so the contract was awarded for a Bell 206-B, which happened to be formally owned by an upstate New York sheriff department. The DEP provided the TFO and the contractor provided a pilot and equipment, which included a Wulfsburg radio, SX5 and FLIR. This was pretty basic equipment for a patrol ship, but enough to give the DEP a chance to prove the benefits of aerial assets.

Once aerial work began, the unit started patrols of remote areas, and was able to do it in a fraction of the time with an immediate increase in incidents detected, demonstrating the effectiveness of aviation as a "force multiplier." Patrols continued with the helicopter detecting dump sites, trespass offenses, encroachment and wild land fires, and assisting ground crews with searches and enforcement actions. 

In September of the first year of operation, Hurricane Floyd gave a glancing blow to the New York metropolitan region. The aircrew over the course of the following two days videotaped each of the affected areas, finding washouts and numerous fields of floating debris ranging from tires and trees to barrels and cows. 

The FLIR was extensively used to scan for hydrocarbons (gas and oil) that were spilled as a result of flood waters carrying away the fuel oil and gasoline tanks found on many upstate New York farms. The aircrew was also credited with expediting the ground crews’ work in locating and removing the debris in the effected areas. These first initial aerial flights, although performed only two or three times a week, began to show just what could be accomplished, and how in some cases, having aviation assets can actually be cost effective. 

DEP began learning valuable lessons and sought advice from other aviation units like the New York City Police Aviation Unit and the New York State Police Aviation Unit for safe operational practices. At this point, the unit was still a part-time operation with few scheduled patrols each week and no advantage of immediate response time to incidents. But that was about to change.

September 11 was a day that forever changed the way many of us do things. For the DEP Aviation Unit, it was the day we became a full-time aviation unit, call sign "Air-6." That day and the days that followed found ours and other aviation units not knowing what was going to happen next. Aircrews from throughout the region were doing double duty, spending long hours to do whatever was needed. Air-6 was given its assignment to protect the water system coming into New York City. The departmental manpower situation, like all other departments, did not change however. Officers were assigned to extended tours of duty at strategic posts and resources were stretched. 

The Aviation Unit took over the patrolling of remote and vital locations and was extensively used as an aerial platform, allowing for better manpower resource management by responding to incidents and advising our control center of the situations, thus allowing the dispatch of only those units needed. 

Scheduled maintenance on the aircraft was performed during the evening hours or when weather was predicted to keep the aircraft down. The unit was fortunate in that very little unscheduled maintenance was necessary because the aircraft was well maintained to begin with. 

In April 2004, DEP replaced the 206-B with a full time lease of a 206-L-1 from the same company, Heliworks of Pensacola, Florida. Heliworks had done a great job and won the competitive bid of the second contract. Again, this contract included pilots, but now they were to be CFIs working with DEP to help formulate and train for an in-house aviation unit. Because of the new contract, pilots will not be cut loose as mission rated until achieving a minimum hourly standard and passing a check ride. 

Chief Pilot Geb Wolf, who is retired from the New York State Police, initially began pilot training for the unit. Wolf is a very accomplished pilot and he established an on-the-job training program for pilots and crew members, giving guidance on safe operational practices. The unit also has CFI Andy Perry, who comes from the civilian side and helps carry out the training and safety programs. 

The full-time leased Long Ranger, which was totally refurbished and modified by Stephen Simpson and his crew at Heliworks, including installation of a C-30 engine, was delivered with wire strike protection, pop-out floats, SX-5, Garmin 430, Technasonic TFM-550 radio and an Avalex AMS-7000 digital mapping system with AVR-8000 recording system integrated with a FLIR 2000. This modified L-1 gives us plenty of lift, pulling only 80 percent torque with equipment, two passengers, crew and a full load of fuel on liftoff. Maximum performance takeoffs in tighter areas are no problem. 

A few of the installed components were chosen specifically for their low weight and high performance level. In particular, crewmembers were very impressed with the Technasonic TFM-550 FM Transceiver. This lightweight three-band radio weighs in at seven pounds installed and gives the operator 200 individual channels on each of the Lo, VHF and UHF bands. Complete with group scan capabilities, program-on-the-fly, selectable 1-10 watt power output, priority channeling, individual band volume control and cross band repeater capability between VHF and UHF, this radio is a high quality signal unit that is easy to operate and affordable. 

Next, the unit chose the Avalex AMS-7000 Digital Mapping System with AVR-8000 recorder and Avalex 8.4 inch flat screen. This system provides street mapping, topographical mapping, VFR and IFR aeronautical maps and nautical charts. Optional map features include aerial photos and custom user maps. DEP has found the system to be just about pinpoint accurate in all mapping and tracking modes and, with a rate of five scans per second, provides almost instantaneous aircraft positioning. 

The flat screen gives high quality images both on mapping and FLIR screens with excellent viewing on sunny days, but you still may want to install a custom screen shade, which helps immensely. The aircraft also has an optional Avalex mounting arm that folds the screen out of the way when not in use, whenever that might be. The 8.4-inch screen is easier for viewing. Operated by touch screen or keyboard in a Windows setup, this system is easy to operate. 

The unit chose a KNEE-KEY kneeboard/keyboard system, which reduces cockpit clutter as opposed to a tray mounted or external keyboard. Capable of split-screen viewing for both mapping and FLIR viewing, the system writes to a mission data recorder or DVD+R disc that can be viewed on the Avalex screen or removed for play on a DVD player. Another useful feature is the built-in HSI, which displays on the Avalex screen and can take traffic data input. The Avalex Digital Mapping System is one of the most useful tools the unit has acquired.

Commanded by Lieutenant Robert Wisker and his Executive Officer, Sergeant John Sweeney, DEP is located at Stewart International Airport, which is at about the center of the unit’s patrol area. Rifton Aviation, the unit’s FBO, has a full modern hangar with 24-hour line service, an office and many accommodations. 

The unit currently averages around 850 hours a year flight time, which may not seem like much to some units, but for DEP, with a full-time lease aircraft, that adds up in operational costs. The unit has demonstrated to those in the city’s government that purchasing and operating our own aircraft is clearly more cost efficient. In fact, the unit is currently in the process of completing bid specifications for the purchase of a new single engine helicopter that will finally be their very own. The bid specs are currently going through the internal process, and hopefully, will be out by early to mid-2005. 

Author’s Note: I don’t know of any aviation unit that just started up and had all their experience and expertise delivered to them in a box.The DEP has a few notables we would like to thank for helping begin operations. APSA’s officers, members and their vast collection of information: it gave our aviation unit ideas and practical teachings, particularly through Air Beat articles. We also thank Deputy Inspector Gallucci and Lieutenant Randy Berry of NYPD Aviation at Floyd Bennet Field and Major Ken Rogers of the New York State Police Aviation Unit who have been a great help to us, all of whom offered us technical advice from their highly experienced staff and fielded any questions we have asked; these great units are tops in our book. We have come a long way in the past five years and have learned quite a bit. We’ve worked hard and have made some errors, but learned from them and continue to try to improve, always with safety as the first item on our checklist. 

Responding to Aircraft Accidents and Incidents:
The Hazards & Initial Considerations for 
First Responders At A Crash Scene

By Scott M. May
Lexington (KY) Police Department

The majority of you that are reading this are inherently aware of the hazards involved in aviation. You may or may not have had the responsibility of responding to an aircraft accident. Those of you that have know firsthand the hazards that can be present and the procedures that must be followed in both those crucial first few minutes and the hours to follow an accident. Those who have not faced such an incident must be prepared to do so.

It can happen nearly anytime and anywhere. You may be off duty at the local airport when it happens or you may be dispatched as part of the emergency responders. This article is to serve as a reminder to those that have been there before and as a guide to those who haven’t.

The first responder will face many hazards once reaching the scene of an aircraft 
accident, some very obvious and many more that are not so readily identified. This would be the perfect time to remember all those classes we endured in training and in-service training on how to deal with hazardous materials. 

The best rule of thumb to apply upon arriving to any crash scene is to treat the area as a hazmat scene. Law enforcement officers are going to respond, and they are going to react. I can’t imagine too many of us that would stand by and say, "I’m not going to help." However, before we go in, we must be aware of the hazards and approach the scene appropriately. Treating the scene as a hazmat scene and taking the proper precautions will allow us to help those involved and will keep us from becoming victims. 

The most easily recognizable hazard one will face is the presence of fire and smoke. A fire not present at the scene doesn’t necessarily mean that there won’t be one. Fuel can ignite on impact or as much as thirty minutes after the crash. Fuel or its fumes can be ignited from several sources present at the scene, including you. Piston aircraft use 100 low lead octane "AvGas" which is extremely volatile. Turbine powered aircraft use "Jet A" fuel (similar to kerosene) and, though not as volatile as AvGas, will readily burn. 

The smoke is not only from the fuel burning, but can also be from materials used in the aircraft and cargo. The fumes from the burning materials can be toxic and remain so for quite some time after the fire has been extinguished. 

While at the scene of a recent accident, officers reported developing a burning sensation in their eyes and lungs from exposure to unseen fumes approximately 15-30 minutes after the fire had been extinguished. Sources of the toxic fumes can be from upholstery, plastic trim, resins in composite materials, and other cargo. The toxic fumes can contain some deadly substances, including hydrogen cyanide, hydrogen chloride, nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde, ammonia, and toluene.

The materials used in the construction of modern aircraft, such as composites, can pose health risks without even burning. Composite materials that are exposed by breaking and fragmenting can cause respiratory threats that are similar to asbestos. Broken filaments can cause minor eye and skin irritations. To make matters worse, these materials can be contaminated with fuel or bio-hazardous materials, which can cause additional adverse reactions. Paint on military aircraft has toxic properties. Exposure to this paint to open cuts can cause serious reactions. Also, the metal used in aircraft construction is extremely thin and potentially razor sharp. Sharp or jagged edges of the metal can be contaminated as well and will cut through thin clothing easily.

Small to medium aircraft often act as cargo transport for anything from human organs to materials containing toxic chemicals. Aircraft are not required to be placarded the same as surface vehicles. The manifests on board should indicate those items considered as hazardous materials. Containers may or may not be marked as containing hazardous materials and the threat from biohazards/blood-borne pathogens may exist as a result of the cargo carried, injuries to the occupants or their remains. 

The potential for an explosion at an accident scene depends upon the presence of fuel, dangerous cargo, pressurized containers (such as oxygen cylinders) and aircraft tires. Tires on large aircraft are frequently filled with nitrogen. Although nitrogen has favorable properties in dealing with the changing pressures of different altitudes, under extreme conditions of pressure and heat build up, a tire can explode with the force of four to five sticks of dynamite. 

Accidents involving military aircraft pose an additional threat: the presence of ordinance. Prior to September 11, it was not commonplace for armed military aircraft to extend operations from their training ranges. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. Armed military aircraft are now constantly airborne throughout the nation. Military officials will not want anyone, including law enforcement personnel, around a crash scene involving one of their aircraft for very long. The assistance to crash survivors would be the only exception. After that, securing the perimeter until relieved would be the only assistance the military may request. 

Along with ammunition, rockets, flares and bombs, several military aircraft have jettison type canopies and ejection seats. The presence of an ejection system is denoted by an upside down triangular symbol. The best advice when dealing with these systems is to allow the aircrew to get themselves out, or if your assistance is needed, follow their directions very carefully. 

Other concerns in reference to military aircraft are the electronics and paint. The paint issue has already been noted. Several of the electronics may have internal batteries capable of holding a charge adequate to shock and even kill you. Some aircraft may have components containing radioactive materials. It should be mentioned, at this point, that some small, light, civil aircraft are now being equipped with ballistic deployed parachute systems to be used in emergencies. These systems have had malfunctions in the past, but are becoming more reliable. Soon, airbags will be installed in aircraft. The potential for injury from an airbag deploying during rescue efforts should be considered the same as with rescues from automobiles containing airbags. 

In order to help protect yourself from these hazards, you need to go beyond the standard issue PPE (Personal Protective Equipment.) Heavy leather gloves, fire resistant suits (long sleeve), facemasks and eye protection need to be utilized in addition to the standard issue rubber/latex gloves. You must be careful not to step in or touch any spilled materials and do not smoke. The use of cell phones in close proximity of spilled fuel may ignite the fumes. Remember that, above all, this is a hazmat scene. 

Initial Steps of the First Responder

There are nine basic steps to consider with aircraft accidents. The military has a few more. Though they may seem basic, you need to make sure that they are followed. The checklist method is one of the best ways to ensure each step has been accomplished and by whom: 

1. Notify Communications
Whether you are dispatched or observe the incident, notify your communications unit. You need to relay the type of incident, type of aircraft involved (if unknown, describe the aircraft in detail), the extent of damage to aircraft, buildings, etc., the number of people injured, if known, and the tail number of the aircraft involved.

2. Request Assistance
You will need assistance from supervisors, additional law enforcement, and fire and EMS units.

3. Take Control
Again, treat the scene as a hazmat scene and secure the perimeter (500 feet minimum). Three perimeters may be used: the innermost for the aircraft and debris field, a second to protect emergency responders, and a third for the media and the public. Remember, you may need to have more than one scene protected. You should also coordinate the upwind approach of assisting units. Determine the best route for others to approach the scene and a route of exit for ambulances. You will need to find an appropriate location for a mobile command post, as well as a location for landing zones for the aero medical units and triage areas.

4. Assist Survivors 
Give aid to survivors carefully, so as not to disturb potential evidence. If you do, document what was moved and how.

5. Leave Remains
Ensure the remains of those fatally injured are left where they are found for investigation and documentation.

6. Keep The Public Back
Again, ensure that you always have the scene secured and manned.

7. Identify Witnesses
Just as you would at a crime scene, locate and separate witnesses. Get at least two phone numbers, along with their addresses. 

8. Coordinate Resources
Synchronize for additional resources who will respond, such as police department collision reconstructionists. The Federal Aviation Administration and National Traffic Safety Board appreciate their assistance when it comes to documenting the scene utilizing survey-styled equipment. Coordinate the evidence collection technicians, the coroner or medical examiner, and the FAA and NTSB.

9. Document Activity
Be sure to document the scene protection using a log that details those who enter and exit the scene and the times of each. You may need to have more than one control point to accomplish this.

Accidents involving military aircraft can be handled using the previously listed steps with the following additional steps and considerations. Remember that these crash scenes are even more hazardous because of the potential presence of 
ordinance. Those additional special considerations are:

1. Advise the appropriate military branch of the incident. If you don’t know how, notify the FAA and they will be glad to assist you. 

2. The perimeter is extended from 500 feet to a quarter of a mile radius around the scene.

3. The scene may be declared a "National Security Area" due to the potential of top-secret technology, equipment, and/or cargo.

4. No photographs will be permitted unless approved by the Military Officer in Charge.

5. The military will relieve law enforcement officers of scene security responsibility, conduct the investigation, and remove any bodies or materials.

6. All information is "classified." The Military Officer in Charge will make all media announcements and interviews. 

The efforts you place into responding to these types of incidents benefit many others. The proper response to and protection of a crash scene is a reflection on the department’s professionalism and capabilities. But, the foremost thought is the safety of those responding to the incident. Remember, "You can’t help someone if you become a victim."


By Keith Johnson
APSA Safety Program Manager

An aircraft accident is defined as, "any occurrence associated with the operation of an aircraft which takes place between the time any person boards the aircraft with the intention of flight until such time as all such persons have disembarked, in which any person suffers fatal or serious injuries as a result of being in or upon the aircraft or anything attached thereto or the aircraft receives substantial damage." 

An incident is an aircraft occurrence, not classified as an accident, in which a hazard or potential hazard to safety is involved.

The term mishap is a general term used to include both accidents and incidents. Although all accidents are mishaps, not all mishaps are accidents. However, a mishap from which a lesson can be learned may warrant being treated as an accident for the purposes of accident prevention.

The NTSB has the primary responsibility of investigating both civil and public aircraft accidents established in Title 49, USC, Sub-Chapter III, 1131-1132, and NTSB personnel are in charge once they are on any scene. Permission to enter a scene must then be authorized by the NTSB. Individual organizations can request permission from the NTSB to join an investigation. (Additional information on the role of public safety personnel may be obtained at

Mishap investigations are undertaken to identify hazards in an effort to prevent future mishaps. It is necessary to determine who, or what, was responsible for the accident. Numerous factors go into design, manufacture, maintenance and operation of an aircraft, and many, if not most, of these actions are interrelated. Every link in the mishap chain must be identified, examined and evaluated before preventive measures can be formulated.

Mishap investigation is an important element to your unit’s safety program. To achieve the objectives of the safety program, anyone encountering an aircraft mishap must observe three absolutes:

1. Provide for the welfare of any injured persons.
2. Prevent further undesirable destruction of the aircraft and equipment.
3. Preserve the mishap scene.

The first step in mishap investigation is to have a Mishap Response Plan. A Mishap Response Plan acknowledges the potential for a mishap, and defines the role and responsibilities of members of the aviation unit and outside resources responding to and investigating the mishap. It also identifies the process for preparing reports, determining the cause(s) of the mishap and development of recommendations to prevent similar mishaps.

A mishap response plan should include response and notification procedures, including checklists and telephone numbers for the following:

• EMS/Fire/Rescue
• Bio-hazard/Hazmat control and removal
• Organization chain-of-command
• Forensics lab
• FAA air traffic control
• Other law enforcement organizations
• Medical care facilities
• Legal advisor
• Medical examiner
• Aircrew family
• Aircraft and equipment manufacturers
• Media

The success of the investigation depends in large part upon the timely response to and protection of the mishap scene. Members of the response team should be identified in the response plan, including their roles and responsibilities. One person should be designated as the Officer-in-Charge of the mishap team. 

Organization assets should be identified and their roles clearly identified. These include cartography, forensic, photo, video and crime labs.