New Zealand Mishap Spurs Night-VFR Education

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New Zealand's accident investigation board has praised a helicopter pilot's skill in saving her craft and crew after a collision with trees at night in rough terrain, despite her own injuries -- but criticized her actions in getting into the accident in the first place. According to the report, Life Flight Trust BK-117 helicopter ZK-III was on a night VFR flight to pick up an injured patient, on January 14, with two crew and two passengers on board. The pilot chose a route and altitude that offered too little margin for safety at night under uncertain weather conditions, the board found. As a result, the board recommended that all pilots should be better educated about night VFR flying. However, "The pilot's actions after the collision were appropriate and successful," the report continued. "Her flying the damaged helicopter to a successful emergency landing, with her injured hand, was a significant achievement." After inadvertently overflying a GPS waypoint by a short distance toward high terrain, the pilot began an emergency climb through cloud. During this climb the helicopter collided with trees, damaging the aircraft and severing a tendon in the pilot's hand as tree debris broke into the cockpit. The other occupants were unhurt. The pilot continued on to an airport, where she hovered the helicopter close to the ground so the others could disembark despite the damaged landing skids, then hovered for over an hour while airport workers assembled a landing pad of old tires. As a result of its investigation, the board recommended that operators should establish guidelines for night VFR flights, rather than leaving it up to pilot discretion. Also, the board cited a need for more guidance material for all night VFR flying.