General Aviation and Helicopter Crashes
Hudson River Mid-Air Collision
On August 8, 2009 a Piper 32R-300 aircraft piloted by a private pilot and a sightseeing tour helicopter operated by Liberty Helicopters, Inc. collided over the Hudson River causing the deaths of all on board each aircraft. In total, nine individuals were killed; the pilot and two passengers in the Piper aircraft, and the pilot and five tourists in the helicopter. Baumeister & Samuels represented the passengers in the Piper aircraft and, through its lawyers, took the lead on virtually every deposition taken and the preparation of the liability case against the defendants, as well as being exclusively responsible for preparing the damages case on behalf of our client whose family members were killed in the crash.
Following two years of litigation, our client’s claims were settled and the federal government paid a sum significantly above 8-figures in one of the largest payments made by the United States of America for the negligent conduct of its air traffic controllers. During the discovery process of the litigation, we determined that the air traffic control staff at the Piper’s departure airport had violated many policies and procedures prior to this tragic collision. One controller failed to properly ensure the correct read back of an instruction to the pilot of the Piper aircraft to change radio frequency because he was engaged in an inappropriate and non-pertinent personal telephone conversation while simultaneously directing air traffic. His supervisor, while on duty, improperly left the air traffic control facility shortly before the mid-air collision to conduct an unauthorized personal errand and was untruthful to investigators during the post-crash investigation as to his whereabouts. In addition to these failures and violations, the pilot of the helicopter violated his employer’s policies and procedures by flying above its specific altitude ceiling requirements at the time of the collision, and he also failed to observe the Piper while operating under the Federal Aviation Administration’s Visual Flight Rules (“VFR”) which required all pilots to “see and avoid” all other aircraft operating in the area. These failures lead Liberty Helicopters to make a substantial financial contribution to the overall settlement. Our firm’s extensive aviation experience in handling cases involving mid-air collisions was vital in securing this extraordinary recovery.
The mid-air collision presented complex legal issues, including a complicated analysis of the Federal Tort Claims Act, applicable Federal Aviation Regulations, and complex state law and choice of law issues all of which required extensive research and evaluation. Our lawyers also reviewed hundreds of thousands of documents and conducted extensive liability depositions before the defendants made a determination that it was in their best interest to avoid a public trial and they agreed to settle our client’s claims.
While the financial security we were able to obtain for our client was important to her, even more important were resulting changes made by the Federal Aviation Administration to reclassify the Class B airspace over the Hudson River by increasing the floor which were enacted on November 19, 2009, sadly too late for our client’s loved ones, but with the hope that no other family should have to endure the same tragedy.
Raytheon Aircraft 390 Premier 1 Crash
Near Fulton County, Georgia
On December 17, 2013 at approximately 7:22 PM, a Raytheon Aircraft Company 390 Premier 1 jet was cleared for takeoff from Runway 26 at the Fulton County Airport-Brown Field located in Atlanta, Georgia for a flight to New Orleans, Louisiana. On board the jet was a pilot and a single passenger. Witnesses reported that the pilot was seated in the right seat of the flight deck while the passenger was seated in the left, the seat specifically reserved for the flying pilot. Immediately after taking off, the pilot contacted air traffic control and advised that he was experiencing a “problem” and requested a return to the airfield. The controller on duty asked the pilot if he wanted to declare an emergency, and he indicated that he did not want to declare an emergency. The pilot was given instructions to enter the right downwind for Runway 26 and was told to follow landing traffic. No other transmissions were recorded from the flight. The jet was unable to make it back and was destroyed when it impacted trees and terrain, and was consumed by a post-crash.
We were able to negotiate a confidential settlement on behalf of the passenger’s family without the necessity of filing a civil lawsuit.
Crash of Eurocopter BK117-B2
From 60th Street Heliport, New York City
On Tuesday, April 15, 1997, our client was piloting a Eurocopter BK117 owned by Colgate-Palmolive. After taking off from the 60th Street heliport in New York City, our client climbed the helicopter to approximately 30 feet and heard a loud bang. The helicopter rotated nose right several times, descended, struck the heliport pier, and fell into the East River where it submerged. Our client and the co-pilot were evacuated underwater. The passengers were found in the cabin and recovered by police divers. Our client suffered serious injuries as a result of this crash, including brain damage that ended his flying career.
The National Transportation Safety Board investigated the accident. Their investigation revealed that the upper 3 feet of the vertical fin had failed due to fatigue fractures and separated, along with the tail rotor assembly. About four and a half years before the crash, the left-hand yaw SAS actuator mounting plate attached to the vertical fin developed a crack and was replaced using blind rivets instead of solid rivets as specified in the manufacturer's design drawings. Neither the repair nor the substitution of rivets was addressed in the manufacturer's maintenance manual. Literature from the rivet manufacturer indicated that blind rivets may be substituted for solid rivets in most applications. No specific reference by the FAA was found to allow for this rivet substitution. The investigation further revealed 11 other helicopters with fatigue cracking in the vertical fin spar similar to the accident helicopter, and testing revealed that materials fastened with blind rivets are more susceptible to fatigue cracking than materials fastened with solid rivets.
We filed a lawsuit on behalf of our client against Eurocopter Deutschland GmbH, American Eurocopter Corporation, MBB Helicopter Corporation, Daimlerchyrsler Aerospace AG, sued as Daimler-Benz Aerospace AG, formerly known as Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm GmbH. After several years of discovery, we were able to secure a substantial settlement to enable him to recover from his injuries without complicating his recovery with financial burdens.
Bell 206 Helicopter Crash in Ontario, Canada
On November 2, 2011, a Bell 206L helicopter, operated by Sunrise Helicopters Inc., departed Kapuskasing, Ontario. The aircraft was chartered by a forestry company for use on a local timber survey flight to the south of Kapuskasing. Two passengers employed by the forestry company, and our client, the pilot, were on board the aircraft. The crash occurred following the in-flight separation of one of the helicopter’s main rotor blades which caused it to strike terrain, fatally injuring all on board. Our firm was retained by the family of the helicopter pilot and we were able to negotiate a fair and just settlement on behalf of his widow and young child with Bell Textron, Inc., and Bell Textron Canada, Inc.
Bell 407 Crash in Coolbaugh Township, Pennsylvania
On October 9, 2012, our client was a passenger on a Bell 407 helicopter operated by ACS Helicopters LLC. The helicopter departed from Elmira/Corning Regional Airport in Elmira, New York and was headed to Westchester County Airport in White Plains, New York when it crashed into trees and terrain in Coolbaugh Township, Pennsylvania. The pilot and one passenger were fatally injured, and our client was seriously and permanently injured. Shortly after take off, weather in the area deteriorated, and the helicopter pilot advised our client and the other passenger that they would not be able to make it to their destination airport. The weather worsened, and the pilot decided to divert to Pocono Mountains Municipal Airport, in Mount Pocono, Pennsylvania. Shortly after, the helicopter struck trees and terrain. The NTSB determined that the probable cause of the accident as the pilot’s decision to continue visual flight rules flight into instrument meteorological conditions due to self-imposed pressure to complete the trip.
Our client spent months in various hospitals and rehabilitation facilities, and required several surgical procedures over the following year.