According to Federal Aviation Administration records, the helicopter pilot killed in the reality TV accident on the Polsa Rosa Ranch earlier this month had multiple citations for improperly operating his helicopter. While it is still unknown what caused the fatal helicopter crash, it is possible that pilot error played a part.
Citations the pilot received included:
- License suspension for 30 days for careless and reckless operation of a helicopter (during filming for Ripley's Believe it or Not!)
- Suspension for 45 days for failing to use two-way-radio communication with air traffic controllers
He was also involved in a helicopter accident in May 2004, when his helicopter fell onto its side during landing. Investigators blamed that incident on power loss to the helicopter, not pilot error.
The pilot was a veteran pilot who has worked on multiple shows that have required dangerous maneuvers and may have encouraged his previous suspensions. Therefore, the incidents raise two questions: 1) Why did the Discovery show hire a pilot with multiple citations on his record; and 2) Are helicopters used safely during filming?
This last question is particularly interesting since many people have questioned the intelligence of flying a helicopter over low-visibility, hilly terrain at 3:30 am. It could be that a courageous pilot was exactly what producers wanted for its new military reality TV show and they are to blame for putting the pilot and the two passengers in a dangerous situation.
Source: Los Angeles Times, "Helicopter pilot in film set crash faced prior enforcement action," Richard Verrier, Feb. 19, 2013