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The Kansas City Star - December 13, 2011

Lawsuit Filed in Fatal Vegas Helicopter Crash by Kansas City Attorney

Associated Press
The Kansas City Star

LAS VEGAS | The first wrongful death lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Nevada on behalf of the families of a honeymooning couple from India killed in a Las Vegas sightseeing helicopter crash that also took the lives of the pilot and a Kansas couple celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary.

The civil lawsuit names Las Vegas-based Sundance Helicopters Inc., the operator of the twilight flight that crashed Dec. 7 near Lake Mead.

“The families are heartbroken by these deaths and they want answers,” said Gary Robb, the Kansas City, Mo.-based lawyer who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the parents of Lovish Bhanot, 28, and Anupama Bhola, 26.

Sundance officials did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment on the lawsuit filed in Clark County District Court.

Also killed in the crash were pilot Landon Nield, 31, of Las Vegas and tourists Delwin and Tamara Chapman, both 49, of Utica, Kan. Nield, a devout Mormon who grew up in Wyoming and Utah, was a newlywed who was married in June.

Robb pointed to a National Transportation Safety Board preliminary report released Tuesday that focused on unexplained turns and a sudden climb moments before the AS350-B2 aircraft crashed in a remote ravine.

“The left turn and climb are not part of the normal route,” said the report, which summarized some details of the crash that were already made public. The report makes no conclusions or recommendations. NTSB officials said a final report on the crash could take a year.

Transportation board member Mark Rosekind told reporters last week that the ill-fated helicopter, built in 1989, underwent routine maintenance the day before the crash. The engine was replaced, along with mechanical devices called servo-actuators in the tail and main rotor.

The chopper made one test flight and two passenger tours before the fatal last flight. Rosekind said evidence showed the engine was producing power when the aircraft crashed.

Radar records show that about a minute before the crash, the aircraft climbed 600 feet and turned sharply left, fell 800 feet, turned left again and plunged into the ravine, the report said.

“All indications are that they had an inflight loss of control,” Robb said. “That’s the only possible explanation for the erratic and abnormal maneuvers prior to the crash.”

Robb, who specializes in helicopter crash safety lawsuits, won a $38 million settlement in a Nevada court in December 2005 on behalf of a New York woman severely burned and injured in a Grand Canyon sightseeing helicopter crash.

NTSB investigators were due to leave Las Vegas on Tuesday, a day after large pieces of the wreckage were airlifted out of the ravine for transport to Phoenix and testing at an NTSB lab. The French accident investigation agency BEA is also taking part because the aircraft was built in France.

Sundance Helicopters chief executive Larry Pietropaolo previously said there was no distress call before an automatic GPS signal stopped during what typically is a 40-minute twilight tour over Hoover Dam and the neon-lit Las Vegas Strip.

The helicopter was not required to have a “black box” data recorder and was not equipped with one.

The crash renewed questions about air tour safety and focused scrutiny on a company that had at least five accidents since 1994 and was the subject of 10 federal enforcement actions, mostly for minor infractions.

In September 2003, a pilot and six passengers were killed when a Sundance helicopter slammed into a canyon wall east of the Grand Canyon West Airport. The pilot was blamed for violating federal aviation regulations. The company was not punished.

Pietropaolo said he believes Sundance has an excellent safety record compared with the air tour industry and general aviation.

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