Vaughan v. Omniflight Helicopters

On August 27, 1990, guitarist Stevie Ray Vaught, the helicopter pilot, and four other passengers were killed when the Bell 206B helicopter with registration number N16933, crashed into the side of a hill at the Alpine Valley Resort in East Troy, Wisconsin. The helicopter was the third of a group of four owned by Omniflight Helicopters that were chartered to ferry musicians and their associates from the resort back to Chicago, Illinois, after a concert. The pilot of the helicopter held flight instructor and commercial certificates with single-engine land aircraft and helicopter ratings. He did not hold an instrument helicopter rating, and Bell 206-series helicopters were not rated for instrument flight. He had a little over five thousand total flight hours with over fifteen hundred hours in the Bell 206B. The accident happened at night when there was a great deal of fog. The pilots of the other helicopters indicated that they had visual flight conditions with some fog, while witnesses on the ground also mentioned patchy fog but stated that they could still see the stars through the fog.

Vaughan, lead guitarist and front man for his band Double Trouble, had been performing as the opening act for Eric Clapton at the Alpine Valley Music Theater. Originally, Vaughan, his brother, musician Jimmie Vaughan, and Jimmie’s wife Connie were all supposed to have reserved seats on the Bell 206B helicopter. However, when they started to board, they found that their seats had been taken by other members of the group. One seat was available, and Vaughan, eager to get back to Chicago, decided to take it, leaving Jimmie and Connie to take a later flight. As the helicopter took off from the golf course, the pilot moved at a higher speed and lower altitude than the other three chartered helicopters. The incident helicopter banked to the left and crashed into the site of a 300 foot ski slope, killing all on board. The helicopter was not discovered missing until the next morning when it failed to arrive in Chicago. The next morning, the wreckage was discovered. All aboard were believed to have died instantly of blunt force injuries even though they were wearing seatbelts.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the crash was caused by pilot error. The report stated that the pilot’s lack of familiarity with the area and the low visibility caused him to crash into the side of the ski slope.

Slack Davis Sanger represented Stevie Ray Vaughan’s family in suing OmniFlight Helicopters for negligence, and the case was settled for a confidential amount. In 1994, a statue of Stevie Ray Vaughan was erected at Auditorium Shores, in Austin, Texas, in recognition of his incomparable contribution to the Austin music scene.

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