Helicopters have limitations. Most fly under “Visual Flight Rules” (VFR) and require a minimum of 1/2 mile of visibility and a 500 foot ceiling during the day; the visibility minimum increases to 3 miles at night. Larger helicopters often have greater VFR minimums. Some helicopters, usually military, are equipped with specialized instruments that permit them to fly in more difficult conditions. Even with a helicopter en route to your scene, weather and air turbulence at the landing site could pose a significant problem and prevent landing. Never assume that a helicopter dispatched for you will arrive; always have a backup plan.
While helicopters require less space than fixed wing aircraft to land, they have their limitations here too. A safe landing zone is flat and approximately 100 feet x 100 feet depending on the size of the helicopter. It should permit the chopper to land and take off into the wind; a light breeze is preferable to no wind, heavy wind, or gusts. At night use head lamps to illuminate the landing spot and any hazards. Rotors generate extremely high wind; hold down or anchor any loose gear. In below freezing conditions beware of windchill; exposed skin can freeze in moments. Direct everyone near the landing site to cover their eyes or look away. Most pilots circle the landing zone before landing. Avoid waving your hands above your head to attract attention; this is the universal “wave-off” signal that tells a pilot NOT to land. While it is helpful to know the hand signals used to guide a helicopter to a safe landing you do not need to know them; if possible contact and follow the pilot’s instructions via radio or phone. Once the helicopter has landed wait for the rotors to come to a FULL STOP. Continue to wait until you receive a clear signal from the pilot (or crew member) before approaching any helicopter. Stay within the pilot’s (or crew member’s) line of site and follow their directions. Do not smoke within 200 feet of any helicopter.
Helicopter rotors create strong winds: