FAA to require crash-resistant fuel tanks after Frisco Flight For Life pilot tragedy

Karen Mahany led the charge to improve helicopter safety

Patrick Mahany assisted with countless rescues during his career as a pilot with Flight For Life. The FAA will now require new helicopters to have crash-resistant fuel tanks, a regulation inspired by Mahany's tragic death in a 2015 helo crash in Frisco.
Courtesy of Karen Mahany

Flight For Life pilot Patrick Mahany’s sacrifice was not in vain. On Wednesday, Congress passed a five-year funding extension of the Federal Aviation Administration. Aside from enacting new regulatory measures for everything from airline seats to drones, the reauthorization also requires helicopter manufacturers to install crash-resistant fuel tanks on new emergency helos. Had those tanks been installed on Mahany’s helicopter when it crashed in Frisco in 2015, he might still be with us today.

Colorado Reps. Jared Polis and Ed Perlmutter have been advocating for upgraded helicopter safety legislation since the crash, resulting in the “Helicopter Fuel System Safety” amendment getting attached to the FAA reauthorization bill as it heads to the White House for the president’s signature.

The original tragedy occurred on July 3, 2015, when Mahany and two flight nurses attempted to take off with their Airbus helicopter from the flight pad at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco. The helicopter lost hydraulic power to its tail rotor, causing the helicopter to spin out of control as soon as it left the ground, and crash into the parking lot nearby.

The crash itself caused extensive trauma to all on board. The helicopter’s fuel tanks were essentially plastic jugs that ruptured upon impact. The fuel ignited, and the resulting fire killed Mahany and severely injured the flight nurses.

Mahany’s widow, Karen Mahany, led the charge to improve helicopter safety after NTSB investigators told her of the flimsy fuel tanks on board. A 9News investigation found that a loophole in previous FAA legislation allowed helicopter manufacturers to avoid having to upgrade helicopters with crash-resistant fuel tanks if they were certified before the legislation.

The Airbus AS350 Patrick Mahany was piloting was manufactured in 2013, but did not have the crash-resistant tanks as it was certified in the ’70s. It is quite possible that Patrick Mahany could have survived the crash had the tanks been upgraded.

Thanks to Karen Mahany’s resilience and the efforts of Colorado legislators, future pilots might be saved from Patrick Mahany’s fate, and it may well be his lasting legacy.

“It’s about time,” Polis told the Summit Daily. “Congress finally passed our Helicopter Fuel System Safety legislation, and we expect it to be signed into law. So proud to work alongside Rep. Perlmutter to ensure that all new emergency helicopters are equipped with the safest possible fuel systems.”

Polis also referenced Karen Mahany and her crusade to protect pilots.

“A special, heartfelt thank you to Karen Mahany, who is committed to making sure that nobody else has to suffer the way she did after she lost her husband, Patrick Mahany,” Polis said.

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