Flight nurse killed in helicopter crash after main rotor blade disintegrates

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Recent Cases: Transportation

August/September 2010, Volume 29, No. 4

Flight nurse killed in helicopter crash after main rotor blade disintegrates  

Natl. Bank of Ind. v. Rolls-Royce Corp., Ind., Marion Co. Cir., No. 49D01-0905-CT-022863, May 26, 2010.

 

Sandra Pearson, 38, was a passenger in a Bell 206L-1 helicopter that was departing from a local fundraising event. Shortly after the helicopter lifted off, witnesses saw components fly off the aircraft. It crashed and caught fire, killing everyone aboard. Pearson, who had worked as a flight nurse earning about $67,000 annually, is survived by two minor children.

 

An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board revealed that the helicopter’s main rotor blade had disintegrated in mid-flight due to a large void in the adhesive affixing a weight within the blade.

 

A guardian on behalf of Pearson’s estate and children sued the manufacturer of the helicopter, alleging it was defective in that the main rotor blade was susceptible to fatigue fracture. The plaintiffs alleged a manufacturing defect based on the fact that there was a void in the adhesive between the internal weight and the spar—the main support in the rotor blade. Suit also alleged that the spar was defectively designed in that its composition made it susceptible to fatigue fracture.

 

Evidence revealed that nearly a year after the crash, the defendant issued a service bulletin on its 206L helicopters. The bulletin referenced the crash that killed Pearson and warned that a fatigue crack could occur in the main rotor blade if there was a combination of residual stress in the spar and a larger-than-acceptable void in the adhesive between the internal weight and the spar.

 

The parties agreed to settle for $5.6 million.

 

The plaintiffs’ expert witnesses in this case were Richard H. McSwain, metallurgy, Pensacola, Fla.; Donald E. Sommer, accident reconstruction, Broomfield, Colo.; Jack Lipscomb, accident reconstruction, Huddleston, Va.; and Lee Coffman, helicopter maintenance, Amarillo, Tex.

 

Plaintiffs’ Counsel

 

Gary C. Robb, Kansas City, Mo.

Anita Porte Robb, Kansas City, Mo.

 


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