Helicopters are very difficult to fly. The typical helicopter flight mission places an already difficult-to-fly aircraft into an even more difficult and hazardous environment. The lower flight altitude of helicopters as compared with fixed-wing aircraft brings them in closer proximity to on-ground hazards such as radio control towers, utility wires, mountains, or tall buildings. As a result of the powerful impact forces involved in a helicopter crash, the likelihood of those occupants' sustaining severe and disabling injuries and fatalities is substantial.
We wrote the book on helicopter crashes.
Helicopter Crash Litigation by Gary C. Robb was first published in 2010. The Second Edition of this acclaimed book has just been published in 2015.
Helicopter crashes within the United States are occurring with alarming frequency. One-half (1/2) of the entire worldwide civil helicopter fleet operates in the United States, and thirty-six percent (36%) of all helicopter crashes occur here. From 2001 to 2005, the accident rate for civil helicopter use per 100,000 flight hours was forty percent (40%) higher than that for general aviation fixed-wing aircraft. The helicopter industry itself has acknowledged that the current helicopter accident rate is "excessive and unsustainable."
"Attorney Gary Robb is by far the most successful helicopter crash trial lawyer in the country."
Forbes Magazine, March 16, 2009
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See also Gary Robb's "10 Essential Checks Before You Step Into a Helicopter," Forbes Magazine, November 3, 2010
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Recent Helicopter Articles By Gary C. Robb
Helicopter Crashes 101
In this February 2014 article, Mr. Robb explains that when a helicopter crashes, the wreckage can leave a trail of clues that leads all the way back to the aircrafts design and manufacture. Investigating these cases requires a unique blend of knowledge of aviation, engineering, pilot training, and weather. Mr. Robb discusses the painstakingly detailed process he has developed over the past thirty years to successfully prosecute his clients’ helicopter crash cases.
Mr. Robb describes critical aspects of helicopter crash investigation including:
- inspection and documentation of the crash site
- engine and maintenance log books
- loss of main rotor control
- loss of tail rotor function
- main rotor strike to fixed obstacle
- engine failure or power loss
- wire strikes
- pilot error or incapacitation
- improper maintenance
- avionics or instrument failures
- component or system failure
- in-flight fire or explosion
- fuel starvation, exhaustion, or contamination
- weather and other environmental factors
- air traffic control errors
Handling Helicopter Litigation – The 10 Indispensable Steps
The causes of helicopter crashes are often markedly different from the causes of airplane crashes because of their unique and even peculiar design, flight, and handling features combined with their commonly high-risk mission profiles. Given the unique flight and performance characteristics, failure modes, and crash scenarios of helicopters, Mr. Robb calls upon his many years of experience to identify the following 10 indispensable steps to maximize the prospects of success in helicopter crash litigation.
- Learn the basics of helicopter flight and operation
- Interview all eye and ear witnesses to the helicopter crash
- Determine the most likely cause(s) of the helicopter crash
- Assess survivability and crashworthiness issues
- Given the French domination of the U.S. helicopter market, be prepared to conduct extensive discovery in France
- Utilize Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to conduct discovery in U.S. military helicopter crashes
- Retain experts with specific training and expertise in helicopter accident investigation and failure analysis
- Arrange for purchase of exemplar helicopter components and systems for comparative testing
- Use actual components from helicopter wreckages to demonstrate product defect
- Teach the jury about helicopter flight and operation in opening statement and throughout trial
Flight Missions Within The Helicopter Industry
Some of the most common flight missions are listed below:
- Helicopter Touring Industry - Over the last decade there has been a disturbingly high rate of fatal helicopter crashes involving site-seeing tours. The NTSB has recorded more than 140 site-seeing flight accidents nationally since January 2000. The primary cause of crashes within the helicopter tour industry includes inadequate management or supervision, inadequate maintenance practices, inadequate risk assessment of weather or environmental conditions, compromising pilot workload by imposing tour guide responsibilities, incentives to fly too close to fixed obstacles, or operating in a crowded airspace.
- News Gathering Operations - There is a recurring safety problem involving numerous news helicopters involved in a police chase or other on-ground events simultaneously having the pilots report live while in flight. In October 2007, the National Press Photographers Association recommended that news helicopter pilots no longer report live while they are flying the helicopter, but this practice continues.
- Air Ambulance Services - In one ten (10) month period alone between December 2007 and October 2008, there were thirteen (13) helicopter air ambulance crashes which resulted in thirty-five (35) deaths. The NTSB has long proposed a flight risk evaluation program for air ambulance operators specifically including consideration of weather, visibility, and the prospect of unfamiliar or unsafe landing sites. On far too many occasions medical helicopters have taken on a mission in weather conditions not suitable for flight.
- Utility Wire Inspections - Helicopters are being used increasingly in the utilities industry for the inspection and maintenance of their transmission lines. This flight mission brings the helicopter in close proximity to horizontally strung utility lines or telephone wires. These are typically difficult for helicopter pilots to see and are especially hazardous to a helicopter. Flying a helicopter in low altitude environments where wires are present requires a degree of skill which is even more complex and demanding than other types of other helicopter flying.
- Search and Rescue Operations - Helicopters are the aircraft of choice in the rescuing of stranded snow skiers, adventurers lost in the wilderness, or people trapped on disabled sailing vessels. Many of the same considerations for air ambulance operations should apply to search and rescue operations, including a formal method of risk assessment.
- Law Enforcement and Border Patrol Usage - Police use of helicopters is increasingly common in most urban areas. Given the uncertain unanticipated flight path upon which such helicopters may embark, a separate spotter or observer is a must.
- Private Transportation - Use of helicopters for private transportation has increased in recent years given the congested nature of many urban areas. It has become common for many downtown office buildings to install a helipad for use of executives or visiting dignitaries. Such things as the velocity and direction of wind require a high degree of skill by the pilot on these missions.
- Transport to Off-Shore Platforms - More than 600 helicopters currently operate in the Gulf of Mexico off-shore fleet taking almost 1.3 million flights and carrying almost 3 million passengers per year. The use of helicopters to transport workers and other personnel to offshore platforms, primarily in the petroleum industry, has resulted in far too many crashes. The vast majority of these have occurred in the process of landing the helicopter on the off-shore platform.
- Firefighting Operations - Uncontained wild fires and massive forest fires are devastating events. Helicopters were first utilized to combat wild fires in southern California in 1947 and have been utilized extensively ever since. A standardized methodology for assessing weight for water, equipment, and personnel would drastically reduce the number of weight related helicopter crashes for this flight mission.
We would be honored to put our specific experience in these types of cases to work for your family. At such a difficult time, it is so important to have legal counsel you can trust to handle your case with the special professional care it deserves.
Call us toll free at (800)474-1339 or contact us by e-mail.
Examples of Our Results - Verdicts and Settlements In Helicopter Crash Cases
Our law firm has obtained the two (2) highest jury verdicts ever in helicopter crash trials:
$350 million Our law firm obtained the two (2) highest jury verdicts ever in helicopter crash trials: A $350 million verdict for a pilot killed in a life flight helicopter crash, and a separate $70 million verdict for a passenger killed in that same helicopter crash. This crash involved a Turbomeca helicopter engine which failed in flight due to a defect in the nozzle guide vane.
Our law firm has obtained the largest settlement in U.S. history for a single injury in a helicopter crash:
$38 million A $38 million settlement for a young woman severely injured in a touring helicopter crash at the Grand Canyon which is the highest settlement in U.S. history for a single helicopter crash injury. Defendants in the case included Papillon, Eurocopter and Turbomeca.