Jumping from a Helicopter Can Be a War-Risk Hazard

A Defense Base Act claimant injured his ankle when he jumped a few inches from a helicopter to the ground below.  The injury occurred at Abu Ghraib prison when, in accordance with custom, the helicopter in which he was traveling “landed” at the prison by hovering a few inches above the ground.  As the helicopter hovered, the occupants exited the aircraft by jumping down to the gravel-covered ground below.  Once all occupants were removed, the helicopter took off again.  This “landing” procedure was commonplace at Abu Ghraib because of the threat of enemy fire.

The issue is whether Claimant’s ankle injury was caused by a “war-risk hazard.”  The answer is, “Yes,” because the injured worker suffered injuries as a direct result of the operation of an aircraft engaged in war activities operating in a zone of hostility.

Under the War Hazards Compensation Act, a “war-risk hazard” includes “any hazard arising during a war in which the United States is engaged . . . from . . . (5) the operation of vessels or aircraft in a zone of hostilities or engaged in war activities.”  See 42 U.S.C. § 1711(b).  The operation of an aircraft involves (at least) take off, flight, and landing procedures.  Whether the aircraft in the hypothetical presented above had landed or hovered above the ground is immaterial.  The engine of the helicopter was not turned off and the rotary wings were moving just enough to not create any lift on the helicopter, which remained in operation during this “landing” procedure.  Further, this “landing” procedure occurred at Abu Ghraib prison which was located in a zone of hostility.  Because all the criteria of 42 U.S.C. § 1711(b)(5) were satisfied, the employer and carrier were entitled to reimbursement of the benefits paid for the injured worker’s Defense Base Act claim.