On Accidents That Aren’t Accidents

How I’m spared from being the victim of the government’s bureaucracy.

If you read my jumper story (in an earlier entry of this blog) and you know anything about the FAA and NTSB and the rules and regulations they operate under, you might be wondering why they hadn’t classified the event as an “accident.”

Unfortunately, they did.

If you search the NTSB’s Web site for accident reports, using the word “suicide” as a search word, you’ll find one case very similar to mine. In that case, the jumper went up with a CFI and dove out during a steep turn that he’d requested. Although the CFI was not at fault — heck, the passenger committed suicide! — the case was classified as an accident.

And my case was going the same way.

Papillon fought back. Not just for me, but for them, too. They didn’t want an accident on their record any more than I did. Although the event met the definition of an accident (which really needs to be revised, in my opinion), common sense says that the word “accident” does not apply to a suicide. There was nothing accidental about it. (The guy purposely undid his seatbelt, pushed his door open against a 100-knot wind, and jumped.) The trick was to get the NTSB to disregard their definition and classify this as something less damaging to the pilot’s or operator’s flight records.

It went all the way to Washington, involving people from the FAA, NTSB, Department of the Interior, and HAI. I even tried to get AOPA involved, but they lamely claimed that you couldn’t fight NTSB on its accident definition. (Good thing I didn’t pay for their legal services plan.) Someone must have talked sense to the bureaucrats, because the other night I got a voicemail message with the good news: they’d changed the classification from accident to something else. What that something else is is still a question. I’ll find out tomorrow.

If there’s a lesson to be learned here, it’s this: don’t let a passenger jump out of your helicopter. Not only is it a traumatic experience, but it results in a ton of paperwork.

What do you think?