Slack & Davis attorney Ladd Sanger offered information about the Robinson R-44 helicopter in the article below.
Cause of St. Mary copter crash still unclear
By Eric Heisig, Thibodaux Daily Comet (Louisiana)
Published: Tuesday, February 7, 2012
What exactly caused the helicopter crash in St. Mary Parish last month that killed two men remains unclear, according to a report released Monday by the National Transportation and Safety Board.
Lanny Ledet, 43, of Gheens, and Jason McKean, 40, of Amite, were killed when their helicopter, a 2006 Robinson R-44 owned by Cenac Marine Services of Houma, crashed on Jan. 19 in a remote area near Belle Isle about 13 miles southwest of Morgan City, authorities said.
Ledet was a longtime employee of the Cenac’s Golden Ranch Plantation, while McKean was a pilot for Chet Morrison Contractors in Houma. The pair took off from the Houma-Terrebonne Airport and were headed to a business meeting in Plaquemines Parish, authorities said, though they had taken a detour over St. Mary Parish.
An autopsy performed by the St. Mary Coroner’s Office reported that Ledet and McKean died from blunt-force injuries sustained in the crash.
On Monday, the NTSB released a preliminary report giving more details about the crash, though it did not say what caused it. The report says there was good weather, and “several witnesses reported seeing the helicopter circling at (a) low altitude and said the pilot waved at them.”
Nobody reported seeing the crash, the report says, but witnesses heard the impact, saw smoke and put out the flaming wreckage with extinguishers.
A full report that includes the probable cause will take up to 18 months to complete.
Ladd Sanger, a Dallas-based aviation law specialist and helicopter pilot, said the Robinson R-44 helicopter has a history of catching fire after crashes due to a problem with its internal fuel system.
“There are at least 20 instances where a Robinson is involved in a crash that had a post-crash fire where it shouldn’t have happened,” Sanger said, adding that the problem causing the fires was fixed in helicopters made after December 2010 and that replacement parts were made available to those with older models. “I’m glad to see Robinson was proactive in changing the design of the helicopter, but there are still a lot of old ones out there that have this (faulty) design.”
This is the second Robinson R-44 helicopter to be involved in a fatal crash in the past month. On Saturday, two people died in Australia when their helicopter crashed soon after takeoff.
Sanger said the details of that crash are similar to the one in St. Mary, and it is peculiar that both caught on fire.
“This helicopter and the Australian helicopter were at relatively low altitudes and air speed, and there were tremendous post-crash fires,” Sanger said. “If the occupants survived the crash, they obviously did not survive the post-crash fire.”
Sanger also said R-44 models have been known to have issues maintaining blade speed while maneuvering. A maneuver can cause the blades to slow down, Sanger said, which can make the helicopter quickly drop.
Between 2001 and 2010, out of 1,768 helicopter crashes, 136 of those involved the R-44 model, NSTB statistics say.
A request for comment from Robinson Helicopters was not immediately returned.
Chet Morrison and Cenac share a helicopter hangar at the airport, though it is still unknown why McKean was flying Cenac’s helicopter. Representatives from Chet Morrison have said McKean was not flying on their business.
Arnold Scott, NTSB investigator and the report’s author, did not immediately return a phone call.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.