The ATSB this week issued a Safety Advisory Notice (SAN) to both aircraft life jacket manufacturers and national aviation certification authorities encouraging them to provide guidance to aircraft operators about how to fit constant-wear life jackets so they don't interfere with seat belts.
The SAN was issued as part the ATSB’s on-going investigation into the mid-air collision of two Sea World helicopters at the Gold Coast on 2 January this year.
During the course of the investigation, ATSB investigators identified a lack of understanding in the broader helicopter tourism community about how constant-wear life jackets should be worn in conjunction with seat belts.
However, the ATSB also found a lack of guidance from CASA and manufacturers on how that should be achieved.
“Our investigators have identified that some passengers’ seat belts in both helicopters involved in this accident were not fitted correctly, in part due to interference from their life jackets,” said ATSB Chief Commissioner Angus Mitchell.
“However, it is very important to stress we have not attributed the outcomes from this tragic accident to the fitment of seat belts and life jacket 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 seat belts contribute to occupant safety in aircraft accidents.
“But our investigation has identified that there appears to be a broader issue across the scenic flight industry where there are misunderstandings as to how seat belts and life jackets should be worn.”
Investigators sifted through social media images and videos posted online, which revealed several instances where life jackets and seat belts interfered with each other.
Images showed that the lap belt portion of the seat belt was either not low and tight across the passenger’s hips and was positioned over or above the life jacket, creating slack, or the buckle was close to the passenger’s sternum. increasing the risk of injury.
“This suggests there is a common lack of understanding in the helicopter tourism community, worldwide, about how to integrate constant-wear life jackets with seat belts, so as not to reduce their effectiveness," Mitchell said.
The investigation into the Gold Coast crash is ongoing, but the SAN can be downloaded now from the ATSB website.