Strothman v. Airbus Helicopters

On March 18, 2014, an Airbus Helicopters AS 350-B2 with registration number N250FB crashed in Seattle, Washington. The helicopter was owned by and registered to Helicopters, Incorporated from Cahokia, Illinois, and was being used as a traffic news helicopter by a local television station, KOMO. A commercial pilot and one passenger were onboard, and both were killed. In addition, a person who was parked on the street below was seriously injured in the accident. The helicopter was leaving the KOMO building with a destination of the Renton Municipal Airport in Renton, Washington. Visual meteorological conditions were prevalent. No flight plan had been filed for this flight.

The helicopter initially landed on a helipad on the top of the KOMO news building to be refueled. As the helicopter began to take off, a loud sound like a backfire was heard. The helicopter began to rotate counterclockwise and then lost altitude, falling to the street below where it struck an occupied car. The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate, as well as a helicopter flight instructor certificate. He had a total flight time of 6,538 hours, all in helicopters. He only had 5.5 hours in the Airbus AS 350-B2, however. The pilot typically flew the Bell 407 Helicopter. He began training on the Airbus AS 350-B2 in January 2014, and the day of the accident was the first day he had flown the AS 350-B2 outside of training. The Airbus AS350-B2 was being used for the KOMO flight that day due to the Bell 407 that they usually used being in the shop for repairs.

The post-crash investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) revealed several problems with the helicopter and the procedures used by Helicopters, Incorporated. First, the helicopter was supplied with an abbreviated checklist for takeoff that had not been updated to account for changes that were made in 2010. This change was made to keep the collective stick from becoming unlocked during pre-flight hydraulic checks and the helicopter becoming unintentionally airborne. The airman who trained the accident pilot stated that he trained him according to the full manual procedure, but it is still possible that the pilot used the abbreviated checklist that day.

Ultimately, the NTSB stated that the probable cause of the crash was the loss of tail rotor and main tail rotor control resulting from the loss of hydraulic boost. They determined that this loss of pressure was likely due to the activation of the hydraulic test button in combination with an unlocked collective stick. From viewing video of the accident, they believe that the pilot did not lock the collective and performed the accumulator check. He may have been startled by the helicopter heaving and moving off the ground and manually increased the collective pitch, causing the helicopter to spin to the left uncontrollably as it inadvertently took off.

In addition, there were safety concerns associated with landing on the KOMO roof to refuel. At least one pilot refused to land and refuel there because he was worried that the helicopter could blow snow and ice off the roof onto people below. A crane being used for construction nearby caused another pilot to complain that landing on the KOMO building was not safe.

Slack Davis Sanger represented the estate of the KOMO photographer who was killed in the accident, and secured a significant settlement for his heirs.

Investigative Report