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Filming from helicopters

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#1 David Allen Grove

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Posted 21 May 2004 - 12:51 PM

Helicopter Crashes While Filming Commercial

KNBC-TV8:09 p.m. PDT May 20, 2004 - Authorities say a helicopter carrying a film crew over the Mojave Desert lost power and crashed Thursday afternoon, injuring three people on board.

Paramedics were sent to an area two miles north of Palmdale Boulevard on 70th Street East about 1:10 p.m., said county fire Capt. Mark Savage.

All three passengers survived the crash.

NBC4's Jennifer Bjorklund said a 46-year-old man suffered a "moderate" injury, and was airlifted to a nearby hospital.

The pilot, David Gibbs, told Bjorklund that he wasn't sure what happened, but that the chopper lost power when he took a turn.

The chopper then flipped over a fence and rolled before crashing.

Bjorklund added that the chopper just came out of its annual inspection.

Gibbs added he was surprised that they came out of the crash OK.

Witnesses who viewed the wreckage also expressed surprise.

Bjorklund said Gibbs has been flying close to 30 years.

The helicopter crew was filming an NBC Olympics promo.

Federal authorities are investigating the cause of the malfunction.
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#2 Anthony Hardwick

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Posted 21 May 2004 - 08:36 PM

I've had more than enough of my share in helicopters - especially when I was an A.C.

They're particularly dangerous while being used for filming for so many obvious reasons. The most common one is pushing the boundaries of safety. I know two D.P.'s who've been in helicopter crashes and lived, as well as a few fatal stories. Remember the HSI shoot just a couple of years ago? Two of my own experiences were pretty hairy, and they were both in foreign countries.

One was flying in a huge ex-Russian military helicopter in Nepal up to a mountain village at an altitude of 16,700 ft. The Russian crew defected with the ship at some point. I was wondering where they were getting parts and where they were servicing the thing while living in exile in Nepal. When I noticed some oil or hydraulic fluid leaking from the main rotor bearing/Jesus nut area, I asked the pilot (via the interperetor), and he said... "It's when you don't see leaking fluid that you have to start worrying." Then he went back to smoking his cigarette while doing his pre-flight inspection.

Later after many hours of shooting in the high elevation village, some ominous clouds started to approach from some distance. The pilot and co-pilot smoked their cigs and looked at the weather, and mentioned that we should get going soon. The Director and A.D. asked for a little more time (pushing it), and the pilots reluctantly acquiesced. A short while later they reiterated the urgency to get going, and of course after stalling for just one more shot, we scrambled to pack up and get out of Lang Tang (Dodge in Nepalese). We flew back down through mountain ravines and valleys in a mixture of rain and sleet. I remember pondering the existence of God and the wisdom of praying for the first time in a loooong time - all while trying to concentrate with a THROBBING headache caused by the high altitude exposure without a sufficient and gradual acclimatization period. I've never been so happy to touch down after a flight before or since. That very easily could have turned out as another... "Remember that crew that was lost in a helicopter crash in Nepal?" story.

The other time was in Japan, and the pilot got air sick while trying to fly the shot. Hmmmm.

I gave up motorcycles a few years ago after many years of being lucky. I think I'll probably opt not to shoot from a helicopter again. I'm glad those guys are okay.
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#3 Daniel Stilling DFF

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Posted 21 May 2004 - 08:59 PM


Any aerial shooting beeing helicopter or airplane should be approached with extreme caution, specialy if the pilot is not used to it. Producers/directors tend to push a lot (as we all well know ;))
When shooting in Costa rica, the director hired a smal single engine to shoot aerials of the house we were shooting in, and had the pilot doing slow flight and extreme banks at very low altitude, wich was extremely dangerous.

In aviation, there is a saying:

I know bold pilots and old pilots, but I don't know any old bold pilots...

Helicopters can be even more dangerous because of their greater flexibility, so if ever shooting from one of them, keep safety in first, second and third place. Everything else comes after that...

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#4 David Allen Grove

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Posted 22 May 2004 - 02:40 AM


Wow, that's a scary story.

I've never flown in a helicopter but I've been asked on two seperate occasions to shoot steadicam out of one. The pay would have been really good on both but I declined both times.

I'm surprised the dictator...er I mean director didn't ask the pilot to hover in mid-air with the plane. It sounds like something he would ask for. (I've worked with this same director before.)
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#5 Larry McConkey

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Posted 22 May 2004 - 08:00 AM

One of the many things that makes shooting for films potentially more dangerous than normal operations has to do with the violation of a very basic safety procedure. All helicopters have a chart showing safe altitudes at various speeds; the idea is that the slower you are going, the higher you need to be in order to make an emergency landing if you lose power ("auto rotation" whereby you trade off altitude for rotor speed by dumping the collective which is the overall pitch of the blades until very close to the ground when you increase the collective pitch quickly - this uses the stored up inertia in the blades and converts it very briefly into extra lift to cushion the landing). So a safe takeoff looks pretty much like an airplane takeoff rather than rising vertically, and a safe landing looks like an airplane landing. You don't want to fly low and slow because that would put you on the wrong side of this "dead man's curve". Of course this is exactly where many shots for films place the helicopter!

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#6 David Allen Grove

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Posted 24 May 2004 - 01:24 PM

Low and slow? That reminds me of the Behind the Scenes footage of the "Italian Job" (the remake).

The helicopter pilot hovers only a few feet above the ground under an overpass or it might have been in a warehouse. Everytime the mini car would try to get past him, the pilot would manuver to block him just like a hummingbird manuvers. Precise, fast moves and fast stops.

It looked incredibly dangerous.
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#7 PatrickvanWeeren


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Posted 24 May 2004 - 02:54 PM

Be very carefull with the Helicopters and always take your own pre-caution. I've done these helicopter shots on a regular basis for a television series and I've bought my own safety harness. You cannot blame anyone else for your security; even producers. You don't know what has happened to someone elses harness.

One time I was ready for lift off with a helicopter-pilot with who'm I can read and write blindfolded but his maintainance guy replaced one of the bolds that I used to secure me and my camera. Unfortunately the maintanance guy only checked the bolds for regular use (with a chair instead of a camera-mount.)

During lift off, we turned to the right (my side) and the soundengineer tapped on my shoulder and he gave me the other end of my safety harness and the bold still connected to it, but the rest of the helicopter was not!!!

The new bolds and pins where not welded properly.

This is why pilots have checklists; because daily routine will make you forget. Make your own checklist and never fly or do anything when you don't feel safe.

Kind regards,

Patrick van Weeren
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#8 Eric Fletcher S.O.C.

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Posted 24 May 2004 - 03:37 PM

The helicopter pilot hovers only a few feet above the ground under an overpass or it might have been in a warehouse. Everytime the mini car would try to get past him, the pilot would manuver to block him just like a hummingbird manuvers. Precise, fast moves and fast stops.

It looked incredibly dangerous.

That's the point and it's really not when you are less then 1 rotor diameter high and going slow.
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#9 glider


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Posted 02 July 2004 - 03:45 AM

I used to fly the Gazelle gas turbine heli a few years ago. It didn't seem to matter what the weather was but I found turning sometimes a problem when flying low because of what was on the ground. The amount of times when I thought that the end was nigh as the machine dropped because of air pockets etc.

As you drop into an air pocket, the mind tends to race and you tend to think of everything that could be causing it from engine problems to rotor failure etc. But all it would be is a lack of downward rotor pressure.

Heli's are safe if the conditions are right, but there again, so are planes. So long as there is enough space to land.

Oh, one other danger is when you drop something out of the open door of a heli. the natural reaction to try and catch it is overwhelming! I've lost a couple things before myself, but not my life purely because of my harness. But I HAVE lunged for them without thinking. Natural reaction.

But hey, I've even fallen off of a (thankfully) SLOW moving camera truck too. No injuries apart from scrapes and a scuffed lens on the second camera. Just goes to show that danger isn't only in the sky.
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#10 David Luckenbach

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Posted 15 August 2004 - 01:57 PM

I've operated Steadicam once hard mounted inside of a helicopter and would not do it again.
I was the operator on the show and also doing the steadicam. We had the helicopter to shuttle crew and equipment up to a ridge for filming. The director wanted to do a POV from the air and add flying space drones in post. The director, DP and I thought the steadicam might be the way to go. As it turned out I feel I could have done just as good a job hand-held if not better without all of the time for rigging with steadicam. As we all know what makes the steadicam work so well is the fact that it likes to stay in the plane that it's on. Couple this with the fact that a slow flying helicopter likes to bounce around a lot especially in the mountains. It became a wrestling match between my rig and me, trying to keep it from bouncing off the floor or ceiling. I grabbed on so tight trying to operate it just became a hand-held shot.

All my Best!
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