NTSB Warns Pilots Of Helmet Cord Hazard

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The NTSB issued a Safety Alert (PDF) on Wednesday aimed at pilots who wear helmets while flying that have a cord attached to the aircraft’s internal communication system. Those cords may not easily detach in the case of an emergency, the safety board has found. The board cited two accidents, both involving helicopters, when the pilot’s egress following an accident was impeded by the connecting cord. In one accident, the pilot lost control of the MD-369E while filling a water bucket at night over a lake. The helicopter hit the water and inverted, and started to sink. The pilot escaped the cockpit but found his helmet was still plugged into its port. He removed the helmet and swam to shore, with only minor injuries. A second accident ended less successfully.

In the second accident cited by the NTSB, an Airbus Helicopters MBB BO105 hit the water while flying at low altitude over a bay in snow and darkening conditions in Canada. The helicopter sank, and the pilot and passenger were able to escape from the helicopter, but the pilot died from hypothermia, and the passenger drowned. A post-accident examination of the pilot’s flight helmet revealed that the end fitting of the helmet cord was fractured where it attached to the communication port. Metal remnants showed that the cord was being pulled sideways toward the pilot’s door (as opposed to downward for release) when the fracture occurred; a post-accident test of a similar fitting required a 70-pound pull before the cord failed.

To avoid these hazards, the safety board recommends that pilots cover the issue of helmet cords in a safety briefing for passengers. Also, the board found that the cord connecting the flight helmet to the communication system might not release readily from the port if the direction of egress is contrary to the direction needed to easily release the cord. Pilots can use a compatible intermediate cord, which connects to the communication port on one end and the cord on the other end, to facilitate a clean separation during egress. Ensure that communication cords are secured from potential snagging or entanglement with components such as flight controls, the NTSB says.

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