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Crash Victims Sue Robinson Helicopter Company, Rolls Royce and Honeywell, Claiming Newly Designed R66 is Defective


July 10, 2013 – Los Angeles, California — The families of two men killed in the first Robinson R66 helicopter to ever crash have filed a wrongful death lawsuit (case number BC514477) in Los Angeles Superior Court through their attorneys, Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman.

The lawsuit alleges that shortly after takeoff the R66 experienced a mechanical malfunction and uncontrollable loss of power during normal operations, as a result of defects in the helicopter’s engine, fuel system component parts, and other parts of the aircraft.

The R66 (N810AG) took off from Girardot Airport in Colombia and crashed near Flandes, Colombia on July 12, 2011, killing both occupants – close friends, Jose Ricardo Cabrera and Juan Pablo Gaviria.

The wives and children of the decedents are seeking millions of dollars in damages against Robinson Helicopter Company of Torrance, California; Rolls Royce Corporation of Rolls Royce North America of Reston, Virginia; Rolls-Royce Holdings PLC of London, England; Honeywell International of Morristown, New Jersey; and Honeywell Aerospace of Phoenix, Arizona.

According to the complaint, the helicopter experienced mechanical failure moments after take-off, which caused “uncontrollable power loss during approximately the final 30 seconds of flight.” An eyewitness stated that they heard a cracking sound and saw something break away from the aircraft prior to impact with the ground.

Five different inspections of the aircraft wreckage have occurred over the last year and a half. The initial inspection occurred in Colombia when the families’ lead aviation attorney, Ronald L. M. Goldman and the rest of his legal team visited the crash site and looked at the wreckage. Mr. Goldman then had the wreckage shipped to the U.S. for further detailed inspection and analysis in Pensacola, Florida at McSwain Engineering.

Subsequent inspections have occurred, including at the Rolls-Royce headquarters in Indianapolis, where the engine data was downloaded from the helicopter’s Electronic Control Module. The plotted data showed that just prior to the crash, the R66 Rolls-Royce RR300 engine was experiencing a series of extreme cycles indicating uncontrollable full power followed by moments of uncontrollable power loss during approximately the final 30 seconds of the flight.

An inspection conducted at Aeroscope, Inc. in Broomfield, Colorado took a further look at the fuel system component parts, including the fuel control, power turbine governor and fuel pump. Representatives from Honeywell (the manufacturer of the R66’s turbine powered fuel system component parts) and Rolls-Royce (the R66 engine manufacturer) participated in the inspection along with the experts retained by the victims’ families.

Another, more detailed scientific and microscopic inspection of the fuel system component parts occurred at McSwain Engineering in Pensacola, Florida, where the entire wreckage is being stored.

The inspections conclude, according to the complaint, that the fuel system in R66 aircraft N810AG was defective, and that the defects are a direct and proximate cause of the mechanical failure and the cycles of uncontrollable power surges and loss which led to the crash.

There have been a total of four Robinson R66 helicopter crashes since the aircraft went into production in late 2010:

  • July 12, 2011, Flandes, Colombia, pilot and passenger killed
  • October 1, 2011, near Philip, South Dakota, pilot killed
  • January 3, 2013, Caraguatatuba, Sao Paolo, Brazil, pilot and passenger killed
  • March 9, 2013, Oamaru Valley, near Taupo, New Zealand, pilot killed

Robinson touts that it produced its 10,000 th helicopter in November 2011 and that it produces the most civilian helicopters in the world. In its Winter 2013 newsletter, Robinson said that it sells the majority of its helicopters (70 percent) to foreign customers. More than 300 R66 helicopters have so far been manufactured.

“Robinson, in my opinion, continues to prioritize profit over safety and it’s a shame,” said Ronald Goldman. “Mr. Gaviria came to Los Angeles to buy one of the first R66 helicopters produced and Robinson sold him a lethally defective machine.”

About the Decedents

Jose Ricardo Cabrera was a certified commercial pilot and entrepreneur who dedicated his life to his family. After moving his family to Colombia from the United States in 2009, Cabrera built a successful ice cream business that he ran with his family. He leaves behind a wife of 32 years and four adult children ages 33, 30, 27, and 25.

Juan Pablo Gaviria was the former president of the Colombian Civil Air Patrol, a non-profit group of doctors that fly to remote communities and provide free medical services to those most in need. Gaviria was a pillar of his community and will be remembered for his generosity of spirit and his passion for flying. He leaves behind a wife of 16 years and three children ages 19, 11, and 8.

About Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman

Baum, Hedlund has represented nearly 600 victims in aviation crashes over the past 40 years, including dozens of product liability claims against various helicopter manufacturers such as Aerospatiale, Bell Helicopter Textron, Hughes Helicopters, McDonnell Douglas, Messerschmitt‑Bolkow Blohm, Robinson Helicopter Company and Sikorsky.

The Gaviria/Cabrera case represents the sixth Robinson helicopter crash the firm has handled. Most recently, Baum Hedlund secured a settlement in a case against Robinson stemming from a crash that killed Mr. Si Young Lee, a South Korean businessman, when an R44 crashed near Easton, Washington after experiencing mechanical failure. That trial was to begin in March 2012 but settled on the eve of trial. The terms of the settlement are confidential.

Read about the R66 crash lawsuit here


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