A Robinson R44 helicopter crashed shortly after takeoff from Kendall-Tamiami Executive Airport, killing the pilot and one passenger. The pilot was Mark Palmieri, who owned Bravo Helicopters and who miraculously survived another crash just two years prior.
The aircraft crashed into an industrial park, but luckily no one was injured on land. According to witnesses, the helicopter burst into flames immediately after the crash and firefighters struggled to take the victims out. Unfortunately, their effort did not pay off, as both victims died from severe chest injuries. As the investigation was ongoing, it was difficult to tell what exactly caused the crash.
Investigators are considering various scenarios from the collision with a bird to homicide and, of course, a manufacturing defect.
According to official statistics released by the Aerospace Industries Association, the National Transportation Safety Board, and the Federal Aviation Administration, in one recent year, there were 654 Robinson R44 helicopters sold in the U.S., making it the most popular civil helicopter model in the U.S. The Robinson R22 isn't far behind. In fact, R44s are often flown by pilots with low-time and are the only popular helicopters flown by private owners. Robinson helicopters popularity is easy to explain when we see that they're:
- Relatively inexpensive to purchase
- Cost-effective to operate
- R44s are often working machines, used intensely
- Used on crop dusting, external load flights, by law enforcement
But the Robinson R44 is also among the most dangerous. In fact, the manufacturer of the model issued a recall to fix the fuel tanks that were improperly designed and could catch fire even in low-impact crashes. It is not known yet whether the aircraft that crashed had its fuel tank replaced or that was an operation to follow.
What Causes Helicopter Accidents?
According to analyses of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) accident reports:
- Robinson R44 helicopters were involved in 42 fatal accidents in the U.S. from 2006 to 2016
- There have been 96 crashes involving Robinson helicopters in the U.S. - from 2000 to 2015 - and 165 people killed in them
- There have been 69 Robinson helicopter crashes in Florida - from 2000 to 2015 - in which 19 have been killed and 41 injured
- There have been 512 fatalities in 291 Robinson crashes worldwide since 1982
Helicopters operate using several complex systems such as:
- Flight controls
- Landing gear
To allow a safe flight, all these elements have to work both as single components and parts of the entire machinery. Any design or manufacturing defect can be fatal. Because of Robinson's design, accidents typically involve:
- Rotor blades peeling apart, slicing through cockpits, and tail booms in flight.
- In-flight separation of the rotor hub from the mast (mast bumping). All two-bladed systems are susceptible to catastrophic in-flight breakup if the helicopter experiences low G conditions, and the pilot does not recover properly. The solution is to avoid low G situations and practice proper pilot technique. Speed also matters. For significant turbulence, slowing down from 110 knots to 60 or 70 knots may be required.
- Post-crash fires such that occupants burn to death in mishaps that would be otherwise survivable, after even low-impact events such as dynamic rollovers. The problem started in the 2000s when Robinson decided to use wet tanks susceptible to post-crash leaks and fires. The fuel tanks didn't cause these accidents, but they did cause them to become fatal. At least the number of aircraft in this camp declined as beginning with 2009, Robinson switched back to fuel bladders and incentivized owners of older models to replace the old tanks.
- Maintenance can also introduce the possibility of fatal mistakes in a helicopter. The post-maintenance flight is particularly risky. There are certain parts of any helicopter that must be installed properly.
Other common causes of helicopter accidents include:
- Failure to properly plan the flight
- Improper training
- Failure to operate the helicopter within its limits
- Operating in unsafe environmental conditions
- Improper use or maintenance
- Improper design or faulty manufacture
- Inadequate testing or quality control
- Inadequate lubrication or cooling
How Can Miami Lawyer Sean M. Cleary Help?
No matter what caused a Robinson crash, one thing is for sure: crashes occur because someone failed to do what needed to be done or did something that shouldn't have been done. Either way, helicopter accidents are preventable, and if they occur, there is usually someone, a person, or a corporation that can be held liable.
If you've been injured in a helicopter accident due to its design, you may be able to recover compensation:
- To pay medical costs
- Compensate you for lost wages
- Compensate you for pain and suffering
Not only can a product liability claim result in money but it can bring about engineering improvements and force change for the benefit of others. Why choose us?
- Our experienced aviation accident lawyer and the investigators with whom we work are committed to uncovering the truth about an accident, determine the liable parties, and finding the proof to show a judge or jury.
- We have successfully resolved all sorts of helicopter accidents and have obtained millions of dollars on behalf of clients.
Most often, helicopter accidents are caused by other factors than the obvious ones, and there are several causes and several responsible parties. Before going to trial, all these details have to be clarified to have a successful lawsuit and recover just compensation.