Ten months after a downed Flight for Life helicopter erupted into a wall of flames in Colorado, legislators in Washington D.C. are moving closer to compelling the Federal Aviation Administration to require better fuel systems in all newly-manufactured helicopters.
The move follows a series of 9Wants to Know reports documenting the FAA's inability to adequately address a problem the military remedied four decades ago.
Nearly 5,000 helicopters in use today do not have fuel systems that would pass the latest safety standards. In the Colorado crash last July, fuel began pouring out of the Flight for Life helicopter less that five seconds after it hit the ground. All three people onboard survived the initial impact. One flight nurse remains hospitalized trying to recover from burns over most of his body.
In April, a sightseeing helicopter crashed in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. All five passengers survived the impact, but four died directly as a result of the fire that ensued, according to autopsy reports.
In all, 9Wants to Know has found 175 post-crash fires with helicopters since 1994.
"It's a damn shame," said Rep. Ed Perlmuttter (D-Colorado) from his Congressional office in Washington D.C.
"This should have been addressed a long time ago," he added.
Late last month, after meeting with the widow of the Flight for Life pilot who died in the Colorado crash, Perlmutter spoke with FAA Administrator Michael Huerta to talk about strengthening safety standards for the country's civilian helicopter fleet.
"The FAA just needs to say it's time. Get it done," Perlmutter told investigative reporter Chris Vanderveen. "They don't need to wait any longer to put this rule in place."
Perlmutter has co-authored legislation on the issue with fellow Colorado Democrat Rep. Jared Polis.
Polis told Vanderveen he's glad the problem is finally getting the attention it deserves.
"I had no idea there was such a glaring loophole in our helicopter safety laws," Polis said. "It's an inexcusable loophole that has caused countless deaths."
A spokesperson for Perlmutter's office told 9Wants to Know the Congressman will consider attaching his legislation as an amendment to the FAA's reauthorization bill which expires in mid July.
The legislation would require all newly built helicopters have a crash resistant fuel system capable of surviving a 50-foot drop test.
The standard, put into place by the FAA in 1994, currently only applies to all newly certified helicopters. It's why the Flight for Life helicopter that crashed and burned in Frisco, Colorado, had a fuel system in it that relied mostly on technology in place when the model was first certified in 1977.
The helicopter itself was only about a year old.