Families of firefighters who died in helicopter crash file suits
The families of two firefighters killed in a fiery helicopter crash last August filed wrongful death, negligence and product liability lawsuits Thursday against an Oregon-based helicopter company and three other firms.
The suits seek $10 million for each of the victims, plus funeral costs.
The Aug. 5 crash is considered the deadliest air tragedy of working firefighters in U.S. history, killing nine men, including seven contract firefighters with Grayback Forestry of Merlin.
In addition to Carson Helicopters Inc. of Grants Pass, the suit names Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., the maker of the S-61 helicopter and its parent company, United Technologies Corp.; the engine's manufacturer, General Electric; and Aurora, Ore.-based Columbia Helicopters, which performed maintenance on the aircraft .
The suits were filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court by the estates of Matthew Hammer, 23, of Grants Pass and Bryan Rich, 29, of Medford.
Matt and Monica Hammer were married five weeks before the crash, and just weeks after he graduated from Corban College with a degree in business.
"Monica is still dealing with this and is not comfortable speaking at this time," said Robert Hopkins, the Portland attorney representing both families.
Friends of Bryan Rich said he had taken up work as a firefighter because the slumping construction industry made it hard to find work framing houses.
The lawsuits claim the crash was caused by the "negligence of the defendants in piloting, operating, designing, manufacturing, selling, overhauling and/or repairing the helicopter and/or it's component parts..." The suits are the second and third filed in the deadly crash.
Last September, the family of Scott Charlson, 25, of Phoenix, Ore., filed a wrongful death lawsuit in California Superior Court in Shasta County against Carson Helicopters, Sikorsky, General Electric and United Technologies Corp.
The helicopter went down on a smoky California mountainside shortly before sundown, moments after lifting off a hillside in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. A preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board determined the helicopter lost power to its main rotor as it took off.
The group from Grayback Forestry Inc. had spent 12 hours digging fire lines and dousing hot spots in Northern California's Iron Alps Complex wildfire and were on their way to a fire camp.
Also killed were: veteran pilot Roark Schwanenberg, 54, of Lostine; U.S. Forest Service helicopter inspector pilot Jim Ramage, 63, of Redding, Calif.; and Grayback firefighters Shawn Blazer; Edrik Gomez, 19, of Ashland; Steven "Caleb" Renno, 21, of Cave Junction; and David Steele, 19, of Ashland.
Four men survived: Rick Schroeder, 42, and Frohreich, both of Medford; Brown, of Rogue River; and William Coultas, 44, of Cave Junction.
In an interview with The Oregonian a month after the crash, Michael Brown said that as the helicopter lifted off, it felt "sluggish" Then, he heard a sickening thump and watched as the helicopter's main rotor smashed into tree limbs and splintered.
Officials with the NTSB said witnesses "consistently reported that the helicopter lifted off slower than they would have expected before striking trees and crashing more than 100 yards from the lift-off point." Sikorsky S-61s have gone down four other times in the past 15 years under similar circumstances to last August's crash, leading some safety officials in the United States and Canada to raise questions about a part in the aircraft's clutch system.
When the piece -- known as the input freewheel unit -- fails, power to the helicopter's main rotor can go out entirely, according to the NTSB, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada and lawyers who have sued the manufacturer on behalf of crash victims.
Sikorsky -- and defendants that included either the engine maker or transmission maker -- settled at least five lawsuits out of court related to crashes allegedly caused by failures of the freewheel units, but never admitted fault.
Andy Mills, director of helicopter operations for Carson Helicopters said the company had not seen a copy of the lawsuits and therefore could not comment.
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Aviation has entered a new phase, one where insurance companies, lawyers, and "aviation consultants" rule the roost.... Oh what fun. I give myself about another five years as a full time pilot, then I'm going to start reducing my own involvement drastically.
http://www.redding.com/news/2013/sep/24 ... sh-near-w/ This should be a wake up call to DOM's and even the engineers on the floor, of the consequences of fudging numbers to satisfy those who sign your pay cheques.
It's a long one - and there is apparently some issues about the accuracy of the report.
Brings to mind the old saying: "What a wicked web we weave, when we practice to deceive."
Some really good people died as a result of this crash - whatever the actual cause is."
In the USA it is common for parties to be offered a "plea bargain" - you testify against the other(s) for a reduced sentence.
Personally - if they actually did what they are accused of they should all get "life" for each death - to be served concurrently - and the plea bargain drops that to 1 less than the others.