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A Flight for Life helicopter just before it crashed in Frisco in July 2015, killing the pilot and seriously injuring two others aboard. Congress passed legislation on Wednesday mandating that newly built helicopters have crash-resistant fuel tanks. (Screenshot from National Transportation Safety Board video)

Legislation aiming to close a loophole to make helicopters safer after a deadly Flight for Life crash in Colorado has passed Congress and is headed to President Donald Trump’s desk.

U.S. Reps. Ed Perlmutter, of Arvada, and Jared Polis, of Boulder, teamed up on the effort, which would require the Federal Aviation Administration to mandate that within 18 months all new helicopters be built with safer, crash-resistant fuel systems.

UPDATED Friday, Oct. 5, 2013: President Donald Trump has signed this legislation.

Federal air crash investigators found that the wreck of the helicopter as it took off from a hospital in Frisco on July 3, 2015, was survivable. But a ruptured fuel tank fed an intense, post-impact fire. The helicopter did not have a crash-resistant fuel tank.

Pilot Patrick Mahany was killed and two others aboard suffered serious injury.

Flight nurse Dave Repsher, one of the two injured, this year won a $100 million settlement with Airbus Helicopters, which manufactured the helicopter, and Air Methods, which operated the chopper, The Associated Press reported. Repsher was traumatically burned — on more than 90 percent of his body — in the crash. 

“The impact forces of this accident were survivable for the helicopter occupants,” the National Transportation Safety Board found. “If the helicopter had been equipped with a crash-resistant fuel system, the potential for thermal injuries to the occupants would have been reduced or eliminated.”

MORE: Read the NTSB’s report on the Flight for Life helicopter crash.

(The video below contains content that some viewers might find disturbing.)

Under current FAA regulations, only helicopters designed after 1994 are required to have crash-resistant fuel tanks, according to Perlmutter’s office.

As a result, only about 14 percent of the more than 4,700 helicopters that have been built since 1994 have been built with crash-resistant fuel systems. The others were built from designs developed before 1994.

The crash-resistant fuel tank provision was part of a bill reauthorizing the FAA that passed through the Senate on Wednesday after earlier making it through the House.

“This legislation is long overdue and too many people have been killed or badly injured as a result of this more than 20-year old loophole,” Perlmutter said in a written statement. 

The president is expected to sign the measure this week. It also  requires the FAA to expedite certification of retrofit kits to improve fuel-system crashworthiness on existing helicopters, and to also publish a bulletin for helicopter owners and operators that includes available retrofits and urges their installation.

The FAA was already working on a similar mandate for helicopter manufacturers but Perlmutter’s office says this legislation will be a quicker fix.


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Jesse Paul

The Colorado Sun — jesse@coloradosun.com Desk: 720-432-2229 Jesse Paul is a political reporter and editor at The...