Helicopter Manufacturers Sued over Army Helicopter Crash in Afghanistan

The families of two Army servicemen have filed a lawsuit against the engine parts manufacturers for a helicopter crash that occurred outside of Kandahar, Afghanistan. The crash left one soldier dead and the other with severe disabilities. (Slack Davis Sanger’ Ladd Sanger is serving as co-counsel for the plaintiffs.)

Katie Groves of Georgia, representing the estate of James E. Groves III, along with Jonathon K. Kohl of Maryland and Aileen Kohl of Washington D.C. filed the wrongful death and personal injury lawsuit (Case No: March Term, 2015 Case No. 000354) yesterday in Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas.

The plaintiffs claim that defendants Triumph Group, Inc. of Berwyn, Pennsylvania, its subsidiaries, and Goodrich Pump and Engine Control Systems Inc. of Charlotte, North Carolina, are strictly liable for the crash that killed Army Chief Warrant Officer Groves and left First Lieutenant Jonathon Kohl with incapacitating injuries.

On March 16, 2013, Groves and Kohl, both based at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Georgia, were flying a Kiowa Warrior OH-58D helicopter, conducting a test-fire exercise north of Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. With Groves at the controls, the helicopter had just performed a shallow dive, leveled off at approximately 200 feet above ground and then entered a climbing right turn in order to repeat the maneuver when the helicopter experienced a loss of engine power.

The chopper’s main rotor wasn’t spinning fast enough to stay airborne. The helicopter nosed left, however, at this point, there wasn’t anything either pilot could do to stop the helicopter from going down.

The post-crash investigation revealed that the engine control unit (ECU), contained in the EMC-35 FADEC (Full Authority Digital Electronic Control-a digital computer that controls fuel to a turbine engine) and its component parts failed, causing a significant reduction of fuel flow to the engine which caused the main rotor to spin too slowly to stay airborne.

The EMC-35 FADEC is supposed to provide the pilot with full engine control throughout the operating envelope of the engine and that is supposed to provide reliable and efficient engine operation.

Soldiers told investigators that Groves was one of the best Kiowa pilots they had ever served with. According to the investigator’s report, soldiers remarked, “if CW3 Groves could not recover the aircraft, it was not due to pilot technique but because the situation was unrecoverable.”

The lawsuit alleges that the defendants’ design and manufacture of the ECU contained in the EMC-35 FADEC was and is defective and unreasonably dangerous. Further, that the defendants were aware of the ECU’s flaws, but did nothing to raise the alarm about the potential for catastrophic failure.

The families’ attorney, Timothy Loranger, a United States Marine Corps veteran and former military aircraft mechanic, stated, “Our soldiers deserve to operate reliable aircraft free of negligent design and defects. My clients will have to live with this tragedy for the rest of their lives.”

About the Victims

CW3 James E. Groves III, 37, was a married father of two. He enlisted following commencement in June 1994 and was nearing the end of his second tour in Afghanistan, following two tours in Iraq. Groves was a member of the 3rd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division at Hunter Army Airfield at the time of his death. He served in the military almost 19 years. He and his wife, Katie, with two beautiful children, had been married almost 15 years.

1Lt Jonathon K. Kohl, 25 years-old at the time of the crash, suffered severe spine and head trauma. Shortly after the crash he was transferred to the U.S. from Afghanistan while in a comatose state, and was treated at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland and The Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, Virginia. He has undergone multiple surgeries and TBI therapies. Currently he is wheelchair bound, has a full time medical assistant and lives at a rehabilitation facility. The charity, Help Our Military Heroes, recently donated a specially equipped van for Jonathon, for which he and his wife are very grateful.

Plaintiffs in this case are represented by the law firms of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman with co-counsel Slack Davis Sanger of Dallas, Texas (Ladd Sanger). Local counsel in Philadelphia is The Wolk Law Firm.

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