Lawsuit blames manufacturer in deadly helicopter crash

The widow of an experienced helicopter pilot who died in a crash three years ago near Arlington filed suit last week in Snohomish County Superior Court seeking unspecified damages from the aircraft’s manufacturer.

Carol Springer alleged that the Robinson R-22 helicopter broke up in flight, causing the chopper to crash, killing her husband and his friend.

Ben Springer, 39, of Stanwood and the friend he was teaching to fly, Bobby Lee Hayford, 54, of Lake Stevens, died in the crash. Hayford had just purchased the helicopter and was taking his first flight lesson.

The suit alleges that Robinson Helicopter Co. of Torrance, Calf., designed and manufactured an “unreasonably dangerous” helicopter.

The company’s Kurt Robinson, vice president of product support, said he hasn’t seen the lawsuit and can’t comment on it.

Federal agencies examined a number of accidents in the R-22 and came up with guidelines for pilots to use to avoid problems, Robinson said.

“It’s the No. 1 aircraft used in training and is probably in a higher risk category than other aircraft,” Robinson said. “Obviously if it’s used in a higher risk involvement, than there are going to be more incidents.”

On Nov. 27, 2004, Springer and Hayford were flying between 300 and 500 feet above the ground north of the Arlington Airport.

Springer, a father of four, was a regular pilot for Airlift Northwest, which flies patients on emergency runs to hospitals. He also had a flight instructor certificate for fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.

The helicopter has dual controls, according to the complaint, and it’s unknown who was in control at the time of the crash.

The National Transportation Safety Board investigated and reported that “for some undetermined reason, the main rotor of the helicopter diverged from its normal track and came into contact with the canopy,” the complaint said.

A NTSB review of a spate of accidents involving the R-22 in the 1980s and 1990s suggested additional training for pilots because of the craft’s characteristics.

Those instructions include avoiding “unloading the system” or decreasing power suddenly, Robinson said. Another is how to get out of a problem once a pilot gets into a bad situation, he said.

“Since then, most people will agree the accident rate has been significantly reduced,” Robinson said.

He added that the company’s reputation depends on safety, and the R-22 is “as safe as the person flying it.”

Reporter Jim Haley: 425-339-3447 or jhaley@heraldnet.com.

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