Fiery helicopter crashes lead to congressional action

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Denver, CO, October 22, 2015 | comments

Content originally published on KUSA on October 22, 2015.

More than three months after a fiery helicopter crash in Frisco killed one and critically wounded another, a pair of Colorado congressmen say the time has come for the FAA to demand better fuel systems onboard helicopters.

The call follows a series of reports from 9Wants to Know detailing the large number of post-crash fires following survivable helicopter crashes in the United States since 1994.

Calling the safety standards for helicopter fuel systems "antiquated," Congressmen Jared Polis and Ed Perlmutter told the FAA Thursday it needs to "act with expediency" to address the problem.

Read the full letter here.

On July 3, a Flight for Life helicopter crashed shortly after takeoff in Frisco, Colo. A witness who spoke to 9Wants to Know estimated the helicopter fell from roughly fifty feet shortly before it became engulfed in flames.

Flight nurse Dave Repsher suffered burns on more than 90 percent of his body and remains in critical condition at University Hospital more than three months after the crash.

Pilot Pat Mahany, a veteran pilot with decades of experience, died shortly after the crash. A final autopsy report has yet to be released.

9NEWS has documented 173 fatal helicopter crashes since 1994 that resulted in post-crash fires. In 1994, the FAA required all newly manufactured and newly certified helicopters to have crash resistant fuel systems. While there was pressure to make it mandatory on all new helicopters, the FAA relented largely out of concern about cost.

The move allowed all helicopters models certified prior to 1994 to keep their fuel systems in place. For example, the helicopter that crashed in Frisco was only year old, but the model was certified in 1977 and thus it was not required to have a crash resistant fuel system.

Congressman Polis told 9Wants to Know Investigator Chris Vanderveen the discrepancy represents a "loophole that needs to be closed."

In late July, the National Transportation Safety Board issued a safety recommendation calling for the FAA to change the rules and require all newly built helicopters, no matter the date of certification, to have fuel systems that would meet or exceed the 1994 standards.

Recently, the FAA preliminarily agreed, setting into motion a potentially lengthy review process to bring about the change.

The letter from the Colorado delegation to the FAA sent Thursday requests the FAA act "as quickly as possible."

(© 2015 KUSA)

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