Death Of 4, Robinson Helicopter Faces Trial, Fuel Tank Design On The R44 II


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Death Of 4, Robinson Helicopter Faces Trial, Fuel Tank Design On The R44 II

By Eddy Metcalf

February 28, 2012 - The trial of Dawson [Lee] v. Robinson Helicopter Company begins March 5, 2012 in Seattle, Washington over the death of Si Young Lee arising from the August 2, 2007 Robinson R44 II helicopter crash near Easton, Washington.  

According to court documents the helicopter experienced a low energy impact with the ground, whereupon it erupted in a fire, killing the pilot and three passengers. Plaintiffs are represented by Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, P.C., of Los Angeles and Krutch Lindell Bingham Jones, P.S., of Seattle.  

Jury selection is scheduled to begin on Monday, March 5, 2012 at 9:00 A.M. at the Superior Court of the State of Washington for King County before the Honorable Richard D. Eadie for the wrongful death claims against Robinson Helicopter Company by the family of Si Young Lee, case number 09-2-35591-6 SEA.

According to court documents, Si Young Lee, a South Korean businessman, was one of four people who perished in the August 2, 2007 Robinson R44 helicopter crash, which crashed shortly after departing the Barbeu Mill logging site near Easton, Washington.  

After allegedly experiencing a mechanical failure in the tail rotor system, the R44 attempted to land and experienced a low energy impact with the ground, whereupon it erupted in a fire that burned for several days, destroying 485 acres. All four people aboard the helicopter burned to death.  

Mr. Lee?s widow, Boo Sool Park contends that an R44 design flaw caused the tail rotor malfunction which led to the crash and subsequent fire. Plaintiffs also allege that the fuel tanks were not crashworthy, as all aboard the helicopter would have and should have survived the low energy crash had the fuel tanks been properly designed and not susceptible to post crash fires at low impacts. None of the occupants should have been burned. 

On August, 2, 2007 a Robinson R44 II, Registration: N7531D operated by Classic Helicopter Corp. was departing from a clear cut area in forested mountainous terrain at an elevation of 4,961 feet. A witness observed the helicopter lift off vertically, oriented in a southerly direction, to an altitude of about 40 feet before turning 90 degrees to the left and proceeding down the hillside to the east.  


The helicopter then began to sway back and forth after traveling about 100 to 150 feet, then it impacted the ground in a nose low, left bank attitude. The witness stated that the wind was switching around during the morning, and that it was blowing down slope toward the east at the time of the accident.  

The closest weather reporting facility, which was located 8 miles west of the accident site, reported winds gusting out of the west to 16 knots. No evidence of any preimpact anomalies were found during the post accident examination that would have precluded normal operation.  

During the accident flight the helicopter was being operated 77 pounds over the maximum gross weight for an Out of Ground Effect hover for the existing conditions. The helicopter was being operated in a high density altitude environment, which was computed to be 6,841 feet mean sea level. 

The National Transportation Safety Board determined the probable cause(s) of this accident were the pilot's improper planning/decision in attempting a downwind takeoff under high density altitude conditions that resulted in a loss of control and impact with terrain. Contributing to the accident were the helicopter's gross weight in excess of the maximum hover out of ground effect limit, a high density altitude, and the gusty tailwind.

Killed in the crash were the pilot and certified flight instructor, Keiko Minakata, Korean businessmen, Si Young Lee and Hyun Song, and an Everett timber owner, Robert Hagerman. Mr. Lee was the president of a South Korean lumber company and was visiting Washington to purchase export grade timber. Mr. Lee, Hyun Song, the timber broker, and Robert Hagerman, owner of the timber, had been surveying timber at Barbeu Mill Corporation's logging site just before the crash.

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