Jury Finds GE Had
Culpability In Crash Of Sikorsky Helicopter That Killed 9
By Mike Mitchell
March 29, 2012 - A Portland, Oregon jury ruled on lawsuit Tuesday that the Sikorsky S-61N helicopter, N612AZ, that crashed killing the pilot-in-command, the safety crewmember, and seven firefighters during a wildfire in Shasta-Trinity National Forest near Weaverville, California on August 5, 2008, had a design flaw making the equipment unsafe.
The lawsuit, brought by a serving pilot and a widow of
one who had died as a result of the crash, alleged
General Electric knew the engine GE CT58-140 a turbo
shaft engine had a design flaw making the equipment
unsafe. GE countered and stated the aircraft was over
its gross weight. The jury blamed GE (57 percent), the
operator (Carson Helicopters) and the manufacture.
Roark Schwanenberg was pilot-in-command and William
Coultas was co-pilot. Four people survived the crash one
of which was the co-pilot. The jury on Tuesday awarded
$28.4 million to the estate. Coultas was awarded $37
million and his wife $4.3 million by the jury.
August 5, 2008, about 7:40 PM a Sikorsky S-61N
helicopter, N612AZ, impacted trees and terrain during
the initial climb after takeoff (about one minute after
takeoff) from Helispot 44 (H-44), located at an
elevation of about 6,000 feet in mountainous terrain
near Weaverville, California.
forces and a postcrash fire destroyed the helicopter, which was
being operated by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) as a public
flight to transport firefighters from H-44 to another helispot.
The USFS had contracted with Carson Helicopters, Inc. (CHI) of
Grants Pass, Oregon, for the services of the helicopter, which
was registered to CHI and leased to Carson Helicopter Services,
Inc. of Grants Pass.
National Transportation Safety Board determined the probable
causes of this accident were as follows: The following actions
by Carson Helicopters: 1) the intentional understatement of the
helicopter's empty weight, 2) the alteration of the power
available chart to exaggerate the helicopter's lift capability,
and 3) the practice of using unapproved above-minimum
specification torque in performance calculations that,
collectively, resulted in the pilots relying on performance
calculations that significantly overestimated the helicopter's
load-carrying capacity and did not provide an adequate
performance margin for a successful takeoff; and insufficient
oversight by the U.S. Forest Service and the Federal Aviation
the accident was the failure of the flight crewmembers to address the
fact that the helicopter had approached its maximum performance
capability on their two prior departures from the accident site because
they were accustomed to operating at the limit of the helicopter?s
the fatalities were the immediate, intense fire that resulted from the
spillage of fuel upon impact from the fuel tanks that were not crash
resistant, the separation from the floor of the cabin seats that were
not crash resistant, and the use of an inappropriate release mechanism
on the cabin seat restraints.
spokesman Rick Kennedy said "Our position has been all along that this
verdict completely contradicts findings by the NTSB." GE plans to appeal
the verdict, but Kennedy said the company will need to first review this
believed that the accident was caused by the loss of power to the #2
engine due to contamination in the fuel control. Six years before the
accident, Carson notified GE, Sikorsky and Columbia Helicopters (the
company that overhauls fuel controls) about its concern over fuel
control contamination which caused engines to lose power. Two years
before the accident, GE recommended that Sikorsky change the airframe
filter for the fuel control from 40 microns to 10 microns to address
Carson Helicopters had reported that the day after the accident, GE emailed Sikorsky asking what was being done about changing the airframe fuel filter. It wasn't until almost two years after the accident that Sikorsky issued a Service Bulletin changing the approved filter from 40 microns to 10 microns.
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