Aviation Safety Letter 4-2003

Shoulder Harnesses Can Save Your Life

Shoulder harness

One third of general aviation accidents deemed survivable end in fatalities because the pilot and passengers did not wear their shoulder harness. These accidents are usually caused by a loss of power, and occur most frequently during the take-off or landing phase. In many cases, the forces created at impact are insufficient to cause death. The fatality results when the body collides with the instrument panel or other parts of the cabin. It is distressing when you think that the simple use of a shoulder- and lap-belt assembly could considerably reduce the risk of fatalities.

Most people will agree that the lap belt is important during takeoff and landing and when there is an encounter with turbulence, but few recognize the importance of wearing the shoulder belt during the most dangerous phases of flight-takeoff and landing. Wearing the shoulder belt is the best insurance against injury should there be an abrupt end to the flight. Every aircraft should have shoulder harnesses installed. It is just as important as having an airworthy aircraft. You should inspect them for wear regularly and ensure that they always function properly. Check the fabric of the belts regularly, especially where it contacts the metal guides and metal locking mechanisms, and forward the assembly to the manufacturer for repairs at the slightest hint of tear or a frayed section. Any damaged area will reduce the assembly's design strength and may be responsible for serious injury in case of a mishap. As pilot-in-command, make sure that the preflight checklist requires that the crew and passengers have their shoulder harness fastened before takeoff and landing. If your aircraft does not have shoulder harnesses, you should have them installed as soon as possible. They do not interfere in any way with your duties, but are the best insurance policy you can have in case of an accident. Be safe — always.

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