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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

Report reveals fatal crash at Dubai World Air Games caused by pilot losing his helmet in flight

Dutch autogyro pilot died 10 days after his craft slammed into the sea during the 2015 competition

A gyrocopter flies over Dubai, United Arab Emirates, during the World Air Games 2015. Karim Sahib / AFP Photo
A gyrocopter flies over Dubai, United Arab Emirates, during the World Air Games 2015. Karim Sahib / AFP Photo

The death of an autogyro pilot at the World Air Games in Dubai two years ago was probably caused when he lost control after his helmet fell off, the official accident report has concluded.

The Dutch pilot, Arend van Randen, who is not named in the report by the air investigation branch of the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority, died in hospital of his injuries after his aircraft hit the sea off Jumeirah Beach Residence during the 2015 Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Air Games.

According to the GCAA, the pilot became distracted during a high-speed turn when his helmet came loose.

By pushing the control stick suddenly to the left he “caused the aircraft to lose lift from the rotors, enter a negative g-load and loose engine power that caused the aircraft to roll and dive, impacting the water at high speed”, the report says.

Read and download the full report

The investigation lists a number of contributing factors, noting that the pilot was inexperienced and lacked proper qualifications to take part in the competition.

“The pilot was most likely not sufficiently experienced to fly the gyrocopter in an air race as he had just over 20 hours of pilot-in-command time for the gyrocopter,” it says.

A video frame showing the fatal crash of an autogryo at the World Air Games in Dubai in 2015
A video frame showing the fatal crash of an autogryo at the World Air Games in Dubai in 2015

In addition: “The pilot selection process lacked robust qualification procedures as all pilots nominated were allowed to compete by the FAI,” the report notes.

It also criticised the organisers, saying the pilot was allowed to take part in the race “even though he had less than the 45 hours of pilot-in-command on the gyrocopter”, as required by GCAA rules.

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Gyrocopter crashes off JBR

The GCAA also says the race course did not have a safe height established “and most of the flight was performed at an average of 100 feet above the water”.

An examination of the crash using the pilot's GoPro camera shows that the straps to his helmet were not fastened in the flight.

Less than two minutes after take-off, the helmet flew off, with the 49-year-old pilot sending the German-made autogyro into a dive, hitting the water at around 90 kph and sinking within six seconds.

He was recovered by a search and rescue team after spending 10 minutes underwater, but was unconscious, and died 10 days later.

Because the microlight gyrocopter class did not have enough entries to fill all the available places, the organisers decided to accept all the competitors, the GCAA says, adding: “The verification of the event director of the flight competency of the participating pilots was limited to inspection of the pilot’s licence and medical records.”

The report makes a number of recommendations, including better checks on the experience of pilots taking part in such races, a review of safety standards and equipment, and the possibility of fitting gyrocopters with a canopy that would give better protection in a crash.