Vaughan v. Omniflight Helicopters

The history of modern, popular music is intertwined with the stories of star performers whose lives ended far too soon in an airplane or helicopter crash.

One of those was legendary Texas blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, who died at age 35 in a Wisconsin helicopter crash. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame described Vaughan as “the second coming of the blues.”

Vaughan, lead guitarist and frontman for his blues-rock band Double Trouble, was the opening act for rock legend Eric Clapton at an evening show on August 27, 1990, at the Alpine Valley Music Theater, located at a ski resort in East Troy, Wisconsin.

Four helicopters had been chartered from Omniflight Helicopters to ferry musicians and their associates after the concert back to Chicago, Illinois. Vaughan and four other passengers boarded the third of the four helicopters, a Bell 206B Jet Ranger N16933. Not only was it dark, but there was fog in the area.

About 1 a.m., each of the four helicopters took off in succession and ascended into the darkness bound for Chicago. Only three arrived. The following morning the third helicopter, with Vaughan aboard, was missing. Searchers found the wreckage of the missing aircraft on the resort less than a mile from where it took off.

Unknown to anyone at the time, the third helicopter had banked immediately after takeoff, then slammed into the side of a 300-foot-high ski slope. Vaughan, the other passengers, and the pilot were killed in the crash.

The post-crash investigation found that the pilot of the helicopter, a highly experienced commercial pilot and flight instructor with more than 5,000 flight hours, including 1,500 hours in the Bell 206B, did not possess a Federal Aviation Administration certificate (equivalent to a license) for instrument flight operations. The Bell helicopter was not equipped for instrument flight. The flight took place late at night and fog was in the area.

In its final report on the accident investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board determined that the crash was due to pilot error. The report stated that the pilot’s lack of planning for the flight conditions, the lack of familiarity with the area, and the low visibility at night caused him to become disoriented and fly directly into the side of the ski slope. The helicopter was only 100 feet above the ground and well below the hill’s summit when it crashed.

Founding partners Tom Davis and Mike Slack, Slack Davis Sanger. represented Vaughan’s family against helicopter operator Omniflight. The company settled with Vaughan family on confidential terms.

Shortly before the tragic death, Vaughan, and his older brother Jimmie Vaughan, also a star blues guitarist, recorded their “Family Style” album. The only musical collaboration between the two stars, the album was released on September 25, 1990. Stevie Ray had often spoken of wanting to record with his brother.

In 1994, a statue of Stevie Ray Vaughan was erected at Auditorium Shores in Austin, Texas, recognizing his incomparable contribution to the Austin music scene.

Date of Incident

August 27, 1990

Location of Incident

Elkhorn, Wisconsin

Represented By:

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