Like other maritime occupations, there are inherent risks involved in maritime aviation. It is important that pilots and aviation personnel be aware of their rights under maritime law, especially if they suffer an accident or injury during the course of their work.
At Kherkher Garcia, LLP, our offshore injury lawyers help clients with all manner of maritime accidents and injuries, including aviation accidents. Below, we provide information about aviation risks, accidents, and your legal rights if you are injured.
Maritime Aviation Occupations
Maritime aviation is essential for keeping our oceans safe and secure. It allows us to respond to emergencies, enforce laws, protect the environment, and transport goods and people. Maritime aviation plays a vital role in the maritime industry. It is used for a variety of purposes, including:
- Search and rescue
- Law enforcement
- Environmental protection
- Medical evacuation
- Oil and gas exploration
- Military operations
Here are some specific examples of how maritime aviation factors into each of these areas:
- Search and Rescue: Maritime aviation is often used to search for and rescue people who are lost at sea. In 2021, for example, the U.S. Coast Guard used helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft to rescue over 1,000 people from the water.
- Law Enforcement: Maritime aviation is also used by law enforcement agencies to patrol the seas and enforce laws. For example, the U.S. Coast Guard uses helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft to interdict drug smugglers and illegal fishing operations.
- Environmental Protection: Maritime aviation is used to monitor and protect the environment. For example, the U.S. Coast Guard uses helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft to patrol for oil spills and other environmental hazards.
- Medical Evacuation: Maritime aviation is used to transport patients who need urgent medical care. For example, the U.S. Coast Guard uses helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft to transport patients from ships to hospitals.
- Oil and Gas Exploration: Maritime aviation is used to explore for and develop oil and gas resources offshore. For example, oil companies use helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft to survey offshore oil fields and transport workers and equipment to and from these fields.
- Military Operations: Maritime aviation is used by the military to support a variety of operations, including combat, surveillance, and logistics. For example, the U.S. Navy uses helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft to transport troops and supplies, conduct surveillance, and provide close air support during combat operations.
- Transport: Maritime aviation is also used to transport goods and people between ships and shore. For example, cruise ships use helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft to transport passengers to and from shore.
The Dangers of Maritime Aviation Jobs
Maritime aviation jobs, which involve flying aircraft in and around maritime environments such as oceans, seas, and coastal areas, can come with certain dangers and risks. Here are some of the potential hazards associated with maritime aviation jobs:
Extreme Weather Conditions
Operating aircraft over water exposes pilots to various weather conditions, including storms, high winds, fog, and heavy rain. These conditions can reduce visibility, affect aircraft performance, and increase the risk of accidents.
Water Landings and Ditching
In the event of an emergency or technical failure, pilots may be required to perform water landings or ditching maneuvers. These situations pose significant risks, such as the potential for a crash landing, capsizing, or sinking. Surviving a water landing and ensuring the safety of passengers and crew can be challenging.
Maritime aviation jobs often involve flying to remote locations, such as offshore oil rigs, research vessels, or remote islands. These areas may lack suitable landing facilities or emergency services, making it harder to access assistance in case of an emergency or medical evacuation.
Search and Rescue Operations
Maritime aviation jobs often involve search and rescue operations, which can be highly demanding and dangerous. Pilots may have to navigate difficult conditions, such as rough seas, limited visibility, or challenging terrain, while conducting search and rescue missions.
Limited Escape Options
Unlike land-based aviation, maritime aviation offers limited escape options in the event of an emergency. The absence of nearby airports or suitable landing areas can limit the pilot’s ability to safely land the aircraft or seek immediate assistance.
Aircraft systems can experience malfunctions, especially when operating in corrosive marine environments. Malfunctions can range from minor issues to critical failures, such as engine problems or avionics failures, which can pose serious risks to the safety of the aircraft and its occupants.
Fatigue and Long Flights
Maritime aviation jobs often involve long flights, extended hours of duty, and irregular schedules. Fatigue can impair a pilot’s judgment, decision-making, and reaction times, increasing the risk of accidents.
Pilots operating in maritime environments may encounter additional hazards, such as floating debris, marine wildlife, or oil spills. These factors can pose risks to the aircraft and crew, requiring pilots to exercise caution and adapt their flying techniques accordingly.
To mitigate these dangers, rigorous training, adherence to safety protocols, and ongoing monitoring and maintenance of aircraft and equipment are essential. Pilots must also stay informed about weather conditions, follow proper procedures for emergency situations, and maintain good situational awareness to ensure the safety of themselves and their passengers.
Examples of Maritime Aviation Crashes
Maritime aviation is a dangerous industry, and crashes are unfortunately not uncommon. In recent years, there have been many aviation crashes. Below is a sample of a few aviation incidents that took place within the past few years:
- 2023: A Navy training aircraft crashed in Alabama, killing both pilots. The aircraft was a T-6B Texan II, a two-seat, turboprop trainer used to train Navy and Marine Corps pilots in flight school.
- 2022: A Cessna Citation crashed into the Baltic Sea, killing all four people on board. The aircraft was on a flight from Poland to Sweden.
- 2022: A CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter crashed during a training exercise in Iraq, killing all seven people on board. The helicopter was assigned to the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing.
- 2022: An F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet crashed into the ocean off the coast of California, killing the pilot. The jet was assigned to the Navy’s Blue Angels flight demonstration team.
- 2009: Nine people were killed in a helicopter crash on the way out to an oil platform. The helicopter’s design was found to be faulty.
- 2008: A helicopter ferrying passengers to an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico crashed off Sabine Pass, killing five people.
These examples represent only a small portion of aviation incidents that occur each year.
Common Injuries Occurring in Maritime Aviation Accidents
Maritime aviation accidents can lead to various injuries, some of which are specific to the nature of the environment. Here are some common injuries that can occur in maritime aviation accidents:
During a crash landing or ditching maneuver, occupants of the aircraft can sustain impact injuries. These may include fractures, contusions, lacerations, and head injuries resulting from the sudden deceleration or impact with objects within the aircraft.
Drowning and Near-Drowning
Water landings or ditching situations pose the risk of occupants becoming submerged in water. Drowning or near-drowning injuries can occur if individuals are unable to exit the aircraft or maintain their airway in water.
When exposed to cold water for an extended period, occupants can develop hypothermia, which is a dangerous drop in body temperature. Hypothermia can lead to confusion, loss of coordination, cardiac issues, and other complications if not addressed promptly.
In the event of a post-crash fire or fuel leakage, occupants can sustain burn injuries. These injuries may range from mild to severe, depending on the extent and severity of the fire or exposure to hot substances.
The impact of a crash or sudden deceleration can result in spinal injuries, such as fractures, herniated discs, or spinal cord damage. These injuries can lead to paralysis or long-term disability.
Soft Tissue Injuries
Accidents can cause sprains, strains, and tears in soft tissues, including muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Rapid movements, turbulence, or impact can contribute to these types of injuries.
Head and Brain Injuries
Head injuries are a common occurrence in aviation accidents. These injuries can range from minor concussions to severe traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). The impact of a crash, objects flying within the cabin, or rapid acceleration/deceleration can cause head injuries.
Maritime aviation accidents can have a profound psychological impact on survivors and witnesses. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and other psychological conditions may result from the experience of the accident.
The severity of injuries can vary depending on factors such as the type of accident, the size of the aircraft, the speed of impact, and the use of safety equipment. Prompt medical attention and access to appropriate rescue and medical facilities are crucial in addressing injuries and improving chances of survival and recovery in maritime aviation accidents.
Are Aviation Accidents Covered by Maritime Law?
Aviation accidents that occur in maritime environments can involve a complex intersection of aviation law and maritime law. The specific legal framework that applies depends on various factors, including the location of the accident, the type of aircraft involved, the nature of the operation, and the applicable international treaties and regulations.
Maritime law generally applies to incidents and injuries that directly relate to maritime activities, such as accidents involving ships, vessels, or maritime workers. In the context of aviation, the coverage of maritime law may depend on factors such as the location of the accident, the nature of the operation, and the specific laws and regulations of the jurisdiction involved.
In some cases, if an aviation accident occurs in a maritime environment and involves a vessel, such as a seaplane or helicopter operating from a ship, aspects of maritime law may come into play. This could include issues related to vessel operations, salvage, or maritime-specific liability provisions.
However, when it comes to personal injury claims resulting from aviation accidents, including maritime aviation accidents, the legal framework primarily revolves around aviation law rather than maritime law. Aviation law encompasses various international treaties, national regulations, and legal principles that specifically govern aviation safety, liability, and compensation.
How a Maritime or Aviation Accident Lawyer Can Help
Maritime law is complex. Add to that the complexities of aviation accidents or injuries, and it can be very difficult to determine what rights and options you have. That’s why it is crucial to consult with an offshore injury lawyer to understand the specific legal framework and rights applicable to maritime aviation injuries.
At Kherkher Garcia, we understand the complexities of both maritime and aviation law. Our accident lawyers help clients understand their rights and every possible option for recovering compensation after an injury. Here are some examples of how we help support and guide our clients:
Investigation and Reporting
In the aftermath of a maritime aviation accident, investigations are typically conducted to determine the causes and contributing factors. The investigation process may involve agencies responsible for aviation safety, maritime authorities, and international organizations like the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The investigation findings can impact liability and compensation claims.
Determining Applicable Laws
Depending on the circumstances of the accident, certain maritime laws may provide benefits and compensation. Maritime workers who are injured in an aviation accident may qualify for coverage under the Jones Act or the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. They may also qualify for maintenance and cure benefits.
Liability and Compensation
Determining liability and seeking compensation for maritime aviation accidents can be complex. Liability may be attributed to various parties, including aircraft operators, pilots, maintenance personnel, air traffic controllers, manufacturers, and others. The legal principles of negligence, strict liability, or international conventions such as the Montreal Convention or the Athens Convention can govern liability and compensation claims.
Limitation of Liability
Under maritime law, there may be provisions for the limitation of liability, which can restrict the amount of compensation that can be claimed by victims or their families. These limitations vary depending on the applicable laws, the type of vessel involved, and the circumstances of the accident.
Aviation accidents in maritime environments often require specialized insurance coverage. Insurance policies may need to address both aviation and maritime risks, including hull and liability coverage for the aircraft, passenger and crew coverage, and protection against pollution and environmental damages.
Navigating the legal aspects of maritime aviation accidents requires expertise in both aviation law and maritime law. Our team has experience in these areas can assist in understanding the applicable regulations, filing claims, and pursuing compensation for victims or their families.
Get a Free Maritime Aviation Case Evaluation
Maritime law and related aviation accidents are traumatic for those involved and their loved ones. If you or a family member has been injured in a maritime aviation accident, Kherkher Garcia can help you explore your rights and options.
We offer a 100% free consultation to every potential client. If you want to learn more about your rights and how to get compensation for your injuries, contact us today. Call 713-333-1030, complete our online form, or chat with our legal team on our website.