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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
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Helicopter Crash Outcome: Eroding Consequence Will Erode Safety

2 comments

Shortly after posting "Tips for Surviving an Airplane Crash", comes this report that settlement has been reached with the family of a flight nurse and a paramedic who died in a helicopter crash in Texas. Not surprisingly, considering the findings of my previous post on these issues, the NTSB to pilot error and weather conditions; probable cause was determined to be:

“…the pilot’s failure to maintain aircraft control resulting in the helicopter impacting the water". Factors contributing to the accident were the pilot’s inadvertent flight into instrument meteorological conditions, and the low ceiling, dark night conditions, and the pilot’s lack of recent instrument flying experience.”

The National Weather Service reported sustained winds from 25 to 30 mph on the night of the crash, gusting to 40 mph. A fog bank is also reported to have hampered visibility.

The families were represented by Rosenthal & Watson, an Austin area (Texas) lawfirm, which, obviously, did an excellent job for its clients. Raul Garcia, 40, and Michael Sanchez, 39 were killed in the crash. An aviation expert opined that the pilot experienced spatial disorientation when encountering low clouds near where landing was supposed to occur. The law firm also alleged that the pilot was inexperienced in using instruments to navigate rather than sight, although the helicopter owner, Metro Aviation, had a policy requiring all pilots to attend monthly instrument training sessions.

Too late to avoid tragedy, but as the usual result of these types of lawsuits, Metro Aviation has implemented changes to enhance safety when conducting operations. These changes include improved instrument proficiency training, the requirement that night-vision goggles be provided to all pilots, and an end to all open-water approaches. Pilots have also been instructed to turn down flights if weather conditions, ceilings or visibility are at minimum safety thresholds.

Serious injury or wrongful death accidents caused by someone else’s negligence, if handled by attorneys who specialize in the appropriate area of practice, will often result high settlements or jury verdicts. That was certainly the case in this tragic helicopter crash. Selfish business interests will cry "lawsuit abuse" or "jackpot justice" and argue that we need caps on damages. I would not trade my good health or the health or life of a loved one for a multi-million dollar verdict and I am certain no one reading this would either. People should triumph over corporate profit and greed. Human life should be considered more important in our society than business life. Safety should also be more important than profits. Simple, inexpensive, safety measures would have prevented this tragedy, and as a result of these senseless deaths, such simple measures have been implemented. Serious injury lawsuits always result in improved safety. The continuation of unsafe practices is, simply, too expensive, once the lack of safety measures are exposed. If we support those who say the cost in dollars is too high (caps on damages; "tort reform"), we will pay, dearly, in human suffering and death. Our system was created to punish the guilty and insure better and safer conduct and products. The threat of a lawsuit does that better than any other safety tool on our planet. Eroding consquence will erode safety.

2 Comments

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  1. Olga O. Pina says:
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    There is no amount of compensation that can comfort my brother-in-law and sister for the loss of their only child. Nothing can ever heal the deep wound that took this beautiful young man that was adored and honored by his family, friends and alma mater, UTPanAm in Harlingen.

    He was kind and funny and brilliant. He had been accepted by a Medical School to continue his studies. Not only that, but he loved his work and was honorable and caring.

    When he was just beginning his career as a nurse, they were called to a drowning incident and he was the one that would never give up giving the little girl CPR. Everyone kept telling him “Give it up, man, she’s gone.” He just shook his head and continued for a longer time. To everyone’s surprise, the little girl, about 4 or 5, began breathing and she was saved. At his funeral, the mother and child, now 10, came to embrace my sister and thanked her for his life and his dedication. This is only one heart-warming story of this young life that was so beautiful.

    It is so easy for companies to say, “We can’t afford the cost of all these safety features”. It is always their bottom line. To those who work and love to save lives, they know that they are doing what is considered by them a mission.

    This kind of resonse after the fact y companies b]should be a lesson to those politicians that represent all of us in this country. There are too many helicopter crashes that involve pilots that are undertrained and under equipped and under stress. Politicians are not blameless. They bear the responsibility of all the deaths nationwide for dragging their feet and refusing to implement safety features that should be required by those who own these helicopter companies, profit or non-profit alike.

    Until this nation recognizes that people, not profit should be the standard for this profession, there will be heartaches for fatherless children, family members that, in that moment of darkness, will always question the company’s motives. They will always have an empty place at the dinner table, a holiday season that will lack that luster of joy and happiness, a mother or father whose absence will never be replaced. Their invaluable guidance and love will be an irreparable loss.

    Thank you for your caring words and your concern on these dedicated men and woman that perish because somebody dropped their guard and did not do the right thing.

    I loved my sweet nephew, Raul Garcia, Jr. and time does not delay my tears. They are there every day. He was a very special human being.

    His loving aunt,

    Olga O. Pina
    Austin, Texas

  2. Mark Bello says:
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    Olga: My profound sympathies to you and your entire family. Thanks for helping us “get to know” Raul. The ten year old girl he rescued from certain death is his beautiful and lasting legacy. Tragedies like this one will keep happening until companies (and politicians) always put people ahead of profits. There is currently a debate in the US Congress. Conservative politicians are attempting to put restrictions on citizen’s access to the courts and justice in injury and death cases in exchange for health care reform. Please call, write, email your Senator and Congress person and tell them that you are against so-called Tort Reform, you are against restricting a person’s right to sue. Tell all your friends and relatives to do the same. The only way to make these safety violators take safety seriously is to hit them where it hurts, in the pocket book. If politicians take away or further restrict these rights, we will all be less safe. Tell them what happened to Raul. Ask them how they would feel if what happened to him happened to one of their cherished loved ones. You can make a difference and Raul will not have died in vain. Again, my sympathies to you, especially to your sister and brother-in-laws, and to your entire family.