No blame game

This first appeared as a Comment in the 10 December issue of Flight International

In the face of any aviation accident there is always a tendency to over-react to the immediate events.
And this is particularly the case when, as with the awful scenes in Glasgow, the crash is quite so public.
The components of the incident – a police helicopter plunging through the roof of a city centre pub full of revellers on a busy Friday night – have lent themselves to producing wall-to-wall coverage in the wider UK media. (By way of comparison one might like to examine the relative number of column inches and reaction devoted to the equally tragic loss of an Embraer 190 and its 33 occupants in the Namibian desert.)
There has, alongside the usual speculation into the accident’s causes, been a tendency to link previous ­incidents involving other Eurocopter types – of which there have been several in Scotland – with the events of 29 November. That is a mistake. Mercedes-Benz ­manufactures both sports cars and trucks, but no self-respecting journalist would attempt to correlate the safety records of these wildly differing road vehicles.
The circumstances of the crash itself remain largely unknown. If anything can be read into the images of the Clutha Vaults and what little information has been ­released by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, it is that events happened very quickly.
The lack of an emergency call and the seemingly ­vertical descent point towards a rapid escalation of events. However, what lay behind that is still unknown as Flight International went to press. Nonetheless – and this is not to prejudge what the AAIB may ­subsequently conclude – examination of the  EC135’s safety record since its commerical debut in 1997 is ­revealing. It shows that in over 2.9 million hours of ­operation there have been just 45 accidents of any ­seriousness, causing 32 fatalities among passengers and crew.
Clearly that is still 32 deaths too many, but given the huge numbers of the type in operation, that still ­remains a relatively enviable record.
That is not simply because the EC135 is only ­employed as a playboy’s extravagence either. A huge number of the aircraft in operation are used in the emergency medical evacuation role or, as was the case in Glasgow, other blue-light functions.
None of this should diminish the tragedy of the events in Glasgow, of course. And if it transpires that it is a manufacturing defect to blame, that safety record will count for naught.

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