Not all maritime industry jobs take place aboard ships, in ports, on continental shelf oil platforms, or in harbors on docks. Maritime pilots are crucial to the operation of many industries. They pilot seaplanes and helicopters to bring supplies or personnel, or to evacuate people from ships and platforms far from shore. Support flights like these are important for moving goods and people so that jobs can get done.
They may be necessary, but these pilots take risks in doing their jobs. Accidents including crashes into the ocean are not uncommon and may be caused by negligence or bad judgement, or may be true accidents. Seaplane and helicopter accidents cause injuries, and too often they lead to fatalities because of the serious nature of the incident. If you work as a maritime pilot, you can qualify for certain rights under maritime law.
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The Role of Maritime Aviation
Maritime pilots of seaplanes and helicopters have an important role to play in the industry. These workers are responsible for bringing out important supplies to ships and platforms that are far from shore and can’t come into dock. They bring food and medical equipment, machinery needed to do the jobs aboard the ships, and the qualified personnel who may be needed to troubleshoot problems.
While these pilots may bring supplies to ships at sea, their biggest job is to bring materials and people out to oil platforms. These platforms are permanent or semi-permanent structures out on the continental shelf, far from shore. Equipment, supplies, and personnel can be brought out to these locations by boat, but air lifting is quicker and more efficient. In addition to bringing what is needed to the platform, pilots can also quickly remove people who are sick or injured and get them back to shore for treatment. In these cases, the pilots may be performing life-saving operations.
The Dangers of the Job
Any kind of aviation job is dangerous, but when piloting over open waters the risks and dangers increase. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number one cause of fatal injuries for offshore oil and gas workers are related to transportation. Of those injuries and accidents, the majority are aircraft incidents. In the oil industry, most of the aircraft employed are helicopters.
According to the same report, the most common causes of helicopter crashes are mechanical failures on the aircraft and bad weather. In a significant number of nonfatal crashes safety equipment malfunctioned. For instance, flotation devices for the aircraft failed to inflate or deploy. These incidents proved fatal in a number of cases. Fatalities were caused by an inverted helicopter crash, sinking of the crashed aircraft, and a lack of warning time before the crash. In all these incidents, drowning was the ultimate cause of death.
Common Maritime Aviation Injuries
When pilots do not die in these tragic crashes, they still often come out of the incident injured. Common injuries that occur include hypothermia from being immersed in cold water for a long period of time, broken bones and head, back, or neck injuries, fractures, cuts, burns, amputations and lost limbs, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Response time and proper safety equipment play a role in how injured a pilot is after a crash. When all workers are trained to respond to incidents and when safety equipment is present and functioning, some injuries can be avoided.
Examples of Accidents
A tragic example of how dangerous the maritime aviation industry occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in 2009. Nine people aboard a helicopter died on a trip out to an oil platform. Investigations found that the owner of the helicopter hid a report internally which had declared the design of the craft to be faulty. This negligence cost people their lives.
Another incident also involved a helicopter ferrying passengers to a Gulf of Mexico oil rig. The craft crashed in 2008 south of Sabine Pass, Texas and killed five people. The pilot was not approved to perform air taxi services, although the ultimate cause of the crash was poor visibility caused by bad weather conditions and low clouds.
Aviation Accidents and Maritime Law
Although these accidents don’t occur aboard a ship at sea, maritime law applies to many situations in which someone is injured or killed in a helicopter or seaplane. Laws like the Jones Act apply to specific types of workers, and many of these pilots ferrying workers and supplies qualify. For instance, the definition of a seaman includes those who contribute to the operation of a ship in the maritime industry.
These pilots may also qualify under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act which covers workers on oil rigs and platforms. The Death on the High Seas Act may also come into play for a pilot who crashes and is killed in an accident out at sea. If you have been injured in a maritime aviation accident and you aren’t sure what your rights are or how you might qualify, a maritime lawyer can help. These professionals can also guide the dependent loved ones of those who have died on the job.