A Eurocopter AS350 helicopter crashed last Friday (July 3) in Frisco, Colorado, shortly after taking off from St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, killing the pilot and injuring the other two crew members. This is a “classic post-crash fire crashworthiness case and demonstrates that the fuel system is defective because the tank ruptured and caused injury in an otherwise survivable crash,” said helicopter pilot and Slack & Davis aviation attorney Ladd Sanger.
Mr. Sanger has handled more than a dozen helicopter crash cases involving post-crash fires caused by compromised fuel systems in Robinson, Airbus Helicopters and Hughes/MD Helicopters. Mr. Sanger was instrumental in getting Robinson Helicopter Company to change the design of its fuel system to reduce the likelihood of post-crash fires.
In October 1994, the FAA changed the standards governing certification and imposed a requirement to demonstrate the fuel (tank) system would survive a 50-foot drop without leakage, required break away style coupling in the fuel system and other safety measures. Sanger explains, “The Airbus Helicopters (formerly Eurocopter) AS-350 model helicopter involved in this crash received its FAA certification in December 1977. Although the helicopter’s design has evolved since 1977 and Airbus Helicopters has made incremental redesigns of its fuel tank system over the years, the company still relies on the old 1977 certification tests and approvals for helicopters built today.
Mr. Sanger continues, “As Friday’s crash demonstrates, the AS-350 B3 fuel system is not crashworthy and doesn’t meet the standards that it should. This was a survivable crash. If not for the compromised fuel system these injuries would have been much less severe and likely not fatal. In this case, the fire greatly enhanced the injuries and this is exactly what the 1994 regulations were designed to prevent.”