June 24, 2008
By BRITT YAP
Associated Press Writer
A helicopter manufacturer and a parts maker will pay $9.5 million to a New Hampshire couple seriously injured in a tour helicopter crash on Kauai last year, the family's attorney said Monday.
The Boeing Co. and Aluminum Precision Products settled a lawsuit filed by Judy and Douglas Barton of Newport, N.H. Both companies could not be reached for comment after hours.
Judy Barton, 52, was paralyzed from the waist down in the March 11, 2007 crash. Her 62-year-old husband suffered back injuries that prevent him from returning to his job as a machinist, attorney Rick Fried said.
"For this injury, it's a very big settlement," Fried said.
Another passenger, Michael Gershon, 60, of Walnut Creek, Calif., died in the accident.
Nearing the end of a sightseeing tour, the McDonnell Douglas 500 lost its tail rotor and entered into a tight spin, crashing into a YMCA camp, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
Fried, a Honolulu attorney, said there was a manufacturing defect with the rotor and as a result, the helicopter became inoperable.
Federal Aviation Administration records show the helicopter was built by McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Systems in 1987 and was owned by Smoky Mountain Helicopters Inc., doing business as Inter-Island Helicopters.
After the problem was found, Inter-Island Helicopters, grounded its fleet. The defect was also found in two other helicopters in New Zealand.
There have been 16 crashes in the last decade due to tail rotor failures that are mostly related to metal fatigue, Fried said.
"The blades have a life of 5,000 hours. This particular rotor had 4,000 hours on it," he said.
The Bartons' flight was just four days after a Heli-USA Airways helicopter crash just miles away, killing four people.
Fried said the Bartons heard about the earlier crash, but were celebrating their 30th anniversary and decided to take the scenic, hour-long tour around the lush island.
"They thought, 'What are the chances?'" Fried said.
The Bartons, now living in a trailer, plan to use the settlement money to build a handicap accessible home on their property and hire a part-time nurse. They also hope to travel and watch some NASCAR races, Fried said.
They have spent $750,000 on medical bills since the accident.
Fried said the companies were "unusually good to deal with." The mediation process concluded six weeks ago, he said.