In a tragic incident on October 18, a chopper carrying six pilgrims and a pilot crashed at Garud Chatti, nearly 2 km from the Kedarnath Dham shrine, leaving everyone onboard dead.
The unfortunate accident has left many of us asking questions about the state of adventure activities in India and how safe they are. As per statistics, loss of control accounted for most helicopter mishaps between 2006 and 2009. Out of these, the majority of fatal accidents were due to a loss of visual reference. In the fourteen years, there were 47 mishaps, 21 of which resulted in fatalities.
As per the preliminary investigation, the main reasons behind the crash were cloudy weather, poor visibility and heavy fog. So, a crucial question here is how safe travelling in the mountains in inclement weather is. Considering the available statistics, it's advisable not to board a helicopter in inclement weather. Bad weather due to rain or fog can drastically affect visibility, resulting in a mishap. Also, before you travel, research the past weather patterns of the destination.
Though such unforeseen accidents can't be avoided, there are some things that you can ensure as a responsible traveller. Here is a look at a few of them.
Keep a close eye on all the pre-flight protocols
If you reach the pick-up site early, you can see that every helicopter undergoes various tests before every flight. After it is refuelled, maintenance engineers go through their protocols to see if it is airworthy, and only after their approval does the chopper take off. Ensure all these measures are carried out.
Check if the in-flight safety measures are in place
To protect passengers, helicopters have many built-in in-flight safety measures. The chopper must have high-quality, functional seatbelts to ensure passengers don't get tossed around. Everybody must also get noise-cancelling headphones to keep the helicopter's noise away and communicate with the pilot. The chopper must also have fire extinguishers for use in case of fire. Also, life jackets for use during a water landing and emergency kits must be there.
Ensure the helicopter is airworthy
Make that the helicopter is airworthy before any flight by performing an inspection per the rotorcraft flight manual (RFM), pilot's operating handbook (POH), or other instructions provided by the manufacturer or operator. Keep in mind that it is the pilot in command's duty to make sure the aircraft is in an airworthy condition. All of these manuals are accessible online.
Make sure the pilot briefs the passengers
The proper body position for optimum spinal protection against a high vertical impact, when and how to evacuate, and other emergency procedures should all be explained to passengers. Ensure that you are informed where the fire extinguisher and other survival gear are located.
Try to book a morning ride
If possible, always try to book a morning ride. Flights in the morning are usually smoother, and there is better visibility.