What to say (and not say) after an accident.

As the old maxim goes, the point in your flight when the engine quits isn’t the time to begin practicing autorotations. And similarly, the period immediately after a crash is not the time to cobble together a post-accident communications plan.

No matter how safely an operation runs, accidents happen in aviation. When they do, companies must be prepared to communicate quickly, accurately, and effectively. Below are five crucial elements to consider when crafting your organization’s crisis communications plan.

Dan Sweet, HAI’s director of public relations and communications, led a course in crisis communications during Communications U for Small Businesses at HAI HELI-EXPO 2023. (HAI/f-stop Photography)

1. DO plan ahead.

Particularly in today’s social media climate, speed is essential when communicating to the public after an accident, so develop and employ a structured plan for how to address a crash and make sure your employees know how to use it. Update the plan as needed and at least annually.

2. DON’T delay.

Own the narrative by speaking first; don’t give the media or anyone else the opportunity to fill a communications void.

Likewise, don’t suspend communications too early. If the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is involved, your role doesn’t end when the NTSB takes over media communications. Be prepared for a possible second wave of media attention after that organization issues its report.

3. DO tell the truth.

It might be painful at the time, but lying or omitting details could hurt your reputation and potentially expose you to liability. Without your honest input, outside media sources, including social media, can quickly spiral away from the facts of an incident and create damaging conjecture.

4. DON’T trust a microphone.

Treat every microphone as if it’s live, and speak accordingly. And, remember, cell phones have recording capabilities too!

5. DON’T say “No comment” to a reporter.

It sounds like you’re hiding something. If you need time to formulate an answer, tell the reporter you’ll need to get back to them—and then be sure to follow up.

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Dan Sweet

Dan Sweet

Dan Sweet is HAI's director of public relations and communications. Dan can be reached at [email protected].