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Helicopter Underwater Evacuation

The objectives

This research proposal addresses the safety recommendation 2016-016 from the UK Air Accident Investigation Branch (UK AAIB) report AAR 1/2016, on the accident of helicopter G-WNSB on 23 August 2013.

As a result, Safety Recommendation 2016-016 states: "It is recommended that the European Aviation Safety Agency instigates a research programme to provide realistic data to better support regulations relating to evacuation and survivability of occupants in commercial helicopters operating offshore. This programme should better quantify the characteristics of helicopter underwater evacuation and include conditions representative of actual offshore operations and passenger demographics". 

After due consideration EASA responded as follows: “EASA agrees that generation of safety data as suggested by this recommendation, and the related discussion text in the accident report, could provide valuable input to future rulemaking decisions related to underwater evacuation of rotorcraft. EASA will perform an initial review into the nature of the research that could be envisaged.”

The overall aim of this research is to address the initial review referred to in EASA’s response to the Safety Recommendation 2016-016. The objectives are to: 

  • provide an up-to-date review of information currently available on helicopter underwater evacuation and escape; 
  • investigate why some occupants, fail to escape while others succeed; 
  • identify gaps in the knowledge; 
  • determine what further work is needed to fill those gaps and improve the likelihood of successful escape in future accidents; 
  • provide information that will help in future rule-making tasks undertaken by EASA.

The main tasks and deliverables

Research study shall include the following tasks: 

Task 1: Analysis of the currently available information, e.g. research, studies, and accident investigations, regarding factors affecting the ability of passengers and crew members to make a rapid escape from a water filled rotorcraft cabin/cockpit. 

Task 2: Analysis of shortfalls in this information to address the related concerns outlined in the accident report. 

Task 3: A recommendation as regards the feasibility associated with conducting research to rectify this lack of information. Where feasible work is identified, propose in outline form the specific research activities and an estimation of the costs.

The following deliverables shall be provided:

  • Interim reportcovering the analysis of the currently available information (task 1); 
  • Final report covering all services (tasks 1, 2, 3).

Description of work

The literature review reported in this document forms the initial phase of the work commissioned to improve the understanding of the survivability issues associated with helicopter underwater escape. The review consisted of a search for scientific papers, technical reports from the industry, accident investigation reports and other documents relating to helicopter underwater escape. Research undertaken to evaluate the underwater escape process has been broken down to allow an assessment of the different factors that may impede escape up to the point of reaching a place of relative safety (normally by boarding a life raft). Human morphology and both physiological and psychological responses have been considered as they will also have a major impact on the likelihood of survival.  Helicopter underwater escape training research has been included, providing useful data relating to the underwater escape process. 

Results and application

The literature review aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the problems experienced in performing an underwater escape and the research undertaken to both understand the issues and identify areas where safety improvements can be made.  The results of the review are then analysed, with the aim of identifying any gaps in the understanding of the problems faced by survivors.  Finally, recommendations for future research are outlined.