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Copter crash lawsuit claims defect

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by Amanda C. Gregg – THE GARDEN ISLAND

A possible defect in parts made by a California manufacturer is blamed in a lawsuit filed by a couple that survived last year’s fatal helicopter crash in Ha’ena, court documents state.

Three people were seriously injured and one person died in the March 11, 2007 Inter-Island Helicopter crash at YMCA Camp Nauea in Ha’ena near Makua, commonly known as Tunnels Beach. It was the second of two fatal helicopter accidents that occurred in a four-day period last year.

The first of last year’s two fatal helicopter crashes occurred March 8, 2007, when a Heli-USA air tour out of Princeville Airport killed four, including the pilot, and critically injured three.

One person from each of the three couples on that flight died.

An electronic records search indicates no suit has been filed against the Nevada-based Heli-USA company in that accident.

Following the Ha’ena accident, Douglas Barton and Judy Barton, both of Newport, N.H., were in critical condition and taken first to Wilcox Memorial Hospital and then flown to Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu.

Rick Fried, the Bartons’ attorney, also represents surviving family members in the Ka Loko Reservoir Dam breach disaster, which killed seven in Kilauea in March 2005.

As a result of the crash, the Bartons sustained spinal injuries; Judy Barton, a former vice president at a bank, is now a paraplegic.

Passenger Dania Hansen, 60, of Los Altos, Calif., suffered serious injuries in the crash and Michael Gershon, 60, of Walnut Creek, Calif., died.

According to court documents, Inter-Island Helicopter owner Ken D’Attilio was served in the suit; however, D’Attilio could not be reached for comment yesterday by press time.

In addition to Inter-Island Helicopters, the suit names Boeing Inc., Smokey Mountain Helicopters and pilot Donald Torres as defendants.

The helicopter was built by McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Systems in 1987 and was owned by Smokey Mountain Helicopters Inc., doing business as Inter-Island Helicopters, Federal Aviation Administration records show.

Messages left with Aluminum Precision Products, a Santa Ana, Calif., company also named in the suit, were not returned to The Garden Island yesterday.

According to the company’s Web site, Aluminum Precision Products “is committed to steady, long term improvement of all of our products and processes through defect prevention rather than detection.”

The preliminary report includes Torres’ statement that he felt no abnormal vibrations preceding the crash, and that while he was flying at 80-85 knots of airspeed over Tunnels Beach, about 50 yards from the shoreline and about 1,000 feet high, he heard two, loud “bangs.”

The report goes on to state that the nose of the helicopter pitched down and yawed to the right, and that as Torres attempted to “get more forward airspeed,” the yaw developed into a tight spin.

The report also states Torres realized the helicopter had lost its tail rotor.

The National Transportation Safety Board has not completed its investigation into either of last year’s fatal helicopter crashes, though its preliminary reports cite missing output shaft linkages from the tail rotor and hydraulic failure in the case of the Heli-USA A-Star crash.

The Garden Island
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