The ATSB has warned that many helicopter passengers are wearing their life jackets in such a way that they interfere with seatbelts.
As part of its ongoing investigation into January’s fatal Gold Coast helicopter crash, the ATSB issued a Safety Advisory Notice to aircraft lifejacket manufacturers and national aviation certification authorities recommending better guidance on how constant wear lifejackets should be fitted.
According to the safety watchdog, some passengers’ seatbelts in the incident helicopters were not fitted correctly due to interference from the lifejackets, which may reflect a broader lack of understanding in the helicopter tourism industry about how constant wear lifejackets should be worn with seatbelts.
“It is very important to stress we have not attributed the outcomes from this tragic accident to the fitment of seatbelts and lifejacket interference, as the nature of the second helicopter’s collision with the sandbar would typically be non-survivable, and a range of other factors beyond seatbelts contribute to occupant safety in aircraft accidents,” said ATSB chief commissioner Angus Mitchell.
“Our investigation has identified that there appears to be a broader issue across the scenic flight industry where there are misunderstandings as to how seatbelts and lifejackets should be worn.”
The ATSB has combed social media photos (as seen above) and identified many occasions where seatbelt webbing or buckles were worn above or over the lifejacket pouches, meaning the lap belts were slack over the pouches or too near the passengers’ sternums instead of low and tight over the hips.
“Aviation lifejacket standards require operational instructions be provided in writing and on the lifejackets themselves,” said Mitchell.
“For constant wear lifejackets, it is reasonably foreseeable that they would be worn seated in an aircraft and while using the aircraft’s seatbelt. Yet there are no required instructions related to this in the relevant standards and the ATSB found no manufacturers opting to provide instructions
“The ATSB encourages manufacturers of constant wear lifejackets to provide operating instructions and/or guidance material to operators of aircraft on how to wear and use a constant wear lifejacket with a seatbelt such that it does not interfere with the performance of the seatbelt during an accident.
“Further, the ATSB encourages certification authorities to modify lifejacket standards to include the requirement for instructions on how to wear constant wear lifejackets while seated and wearing a seatbelt.”