Aftermath of S-61 crash in legal dispute

HAI Convention News » 2010
February 22, 2010, 3:28 PM

In a strongly worded statement issued here yesterday, two senior executives from Columbia Helicopters (Booth No. 3707) vociferously denied what they called “unfounded allegations” that the company had tampered with evidence from the fatal crash of a Carson Helicopters Sikorsky S-61N in 2008. They also denied that fuel-control units (FCUs) aboard that aircraft and serviced by Columbia played any role in the crash’s cause.

The 1965 S-61N crashed while lifting off from a 6,000-foot-msl helispot on the Buckhorn Fire in California’s Shasta-Trinity National Forest. Nine of the 13 aboard were killed. The NTSB preliminary report states that the helicopter experienced a loss of power to the main rotor during takeoff initial climb. In the weeks following the crash, NTSB investigators discovered that the records for the crashed Carson S-61 and six others understated their weights and that Carson’s flight manuals contained improperly modified engine performance charts that could lead pilots to believe the helicopters had more available power than they actually did.

Carson denied that either error caused the crash and alleged that a contaminated pressure-release valve in the FCU caused the loss of engine power. In a July 10, 2009 letter to NTSB Office of Aviation Safety director Thomas Haueter, Carson president Frank Carson complained about “possible tampering and destruction of evidence relating to the FCUs from the accident aircraft” while they were in Columbia’s possession in the days immediately after the accident. While the NTSB has yet to issue probable cause and a final report on the accident, it did investigate Carson’s allegations–and subsequently dismissed them. It then released supporting documents concerning this investigation on its public docket last September.

Columbia general counsel Tonya Van Walleghem accused Carson of engaging in “baseless conjecture” that “casts unwarranted aspersions upon the integrity of the NTSB’s investigation and upon the integrity of Columbia Helicopters and its employees.”

Frank Carson declined to comment about Columbia’s statement pending the outcome of the NTSB’s investigation.

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