Mar 12, 2024

How to Survive a Helicopter Crash

Helicopter against sunset

Helicopters are more likely to crash than commercial planes, and they have a higher fatality rate. For this reason, anyone who is going to ride in a chopper should do everything they can to ensure a smooth and uneventful flight. Here are some steps people can take to boost their chances of survival if the unthinkable occurs.

Before Takeoff

Before a helicopter even leaves the ground, its passengers should confirm that the pilot is certified and experienced and that the weather is clear enough for flight. They should also ask if the helicopter has been properly maintained, and if it’s equipped with every available safety feature. For example:

  • Global positioning system (GPS) for navigation
  • Radio altimeter for avoiding nearby aircraft
  • Terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS), which warns pilots when the helicopter gets too close to the ground
  • Medical kits
  • Flotation devices
  • Helmets, harnesses, and seat belts (this should go without saying)

Airbus makes crash-resistant fuel systems and shock-absorbing seats, which are less standard features that might increase the chance of survival.

If the helicopter lacks any of the above — or the pilot seems inexperienced, inebriated, or tired — passengers should reconsider their flight.


As with flying on a plane, once a passenger is in the air, there are measures they can take to protect themselves:

  • Paying attention during the crew’s safety instructions
  • Making a mental note of all emergency exits
  • Listening to the crew, pilots, and the aircraft itself

If the pilot or crew seems nervous, or the helicopter is making worrisome sounds (such as a metal-on-metal grinding coming from the engine), a passenger would be wise to secure any items that might fly around the cabin in the event of a crash, such as laptops and other devices, tools, backpacks, etc.

During the Crash

If the helicopter starts to dive, or a crash otherwise seems imminent, a passenger should fasten their harness or seat belt (if they haven’t already) and brace for impact.

Crucially, after the crash occurs, one should slowly count to five before leaving the brace position and attempting to exit. These five seconds will allow any falling debris or projectiles to reach their destinations. Ideally, waiting five seconds will also keep the passenger calm and clear-headed, and allow their panic to subside.

A passenger should survey the damage, locate the nearest emergency exit, unbuckle their seat belt or harness, and make for the exit. If they have time (i.e., there is no rushing water or growing fire in the cabin) and are physically able, they should assist others on their way out.

After the Crash

If a passenger is able to make it out of the helicopter, they should immediately get far enough away from the wreckage that they won’t be injured in the event of its explosion. (If the helicopter crashed into a body of water, they should make for the surface and then the nearest landmass, ideally with a flotation device in tow.)

At this point, the keys to survival become food, water, and visibility. A crash victim needs enough food and clean water to last until rescuers arrive, and they may need to boost their visibility (maybe with a fire or smoke signal) in order to get rescuers’ attention.

Perhaps most importantly, they should not give up hope.