The NTSB blamed the helicopter crash that killed 9 firefighters on the the helicopter's operator. Basically, the NTSB concluded that the helicopter crashed because it was overloaded. But today a jury disagreed, deciding that the Sikorsky helicopter crashed because one of its two engines failed. The jury handed down a $70 million verdict against GE, the engine's manufacturer.
Why is a jury allowed to come to a conclusion totally opposite to that reached by the NTSB? In short, because the NTSB's findings are inadmissible in a court of law. And there's good reason for that. For starters, a victim's family is not allowed to participate in the NTSB investigation, while the manufacturers who may be to blame for the accident are. As a result, the NTSB's findings frequently favor the manufacturers.
Is that what happened here? Did the NTSB unfairly favor GE? It seems that it may have.
I spoke today with one of the participants in the trial held in Portland. He explained that, originally, the NTSB had determined that one of the helicopter's engines did, in fact, fail in flight. That report mysteriously "disappeared," however, shortly after it was published. As did the engine's fuel control unit.
The NTSB ultimately took the position that losing the fuel control unit was no big deal, because it believed the engine hadn't failed. But plaintiffs introduced at trial substantial evidence that it had, including an audio recording made during the crash sequence which helped proved that one of the engines "rolled back," or shut down, just before the impact.
In December, 2010, the helicopter's operator issued a press release complaining that the NTSB proceedings were unfair. Given today's verdict, it makes for particularly interesting reading.
. . the facts clearly show that the primary cause of this accident was a loss of power to the #2 engine of the aircraft. There is a strong chain of physical evidence in the [NTSB's evidence] that indicates a high probability that a malfunctioning fuel control unit (FCU) caused a sudden loss of power as the aircraft transitioned to forward flight. Extensive independent real-world flight testing has confirmed that even [if overweight, the helicopter should] have had enough power to fly away from . . with two properly operating engines. The co-pilot has confirmed much of this evidence with his recent testimony. . . The NTSB has ignored his testimony in favor of supposition. . .
Unfortunately, early in this investigation the NTSB lost custody of several fuel control parts, and conducted a filter inspection incorrectly, which they have acknowledged. Since that time, the NTSB has chosen to ignore the physical evidence and flight parameters that indicate a possible blockage in the FCU. They repeatedly refused to participate in independent flight testing, and they have not given proper consideration to the copilot's direct testimony of conditions and available power just prior to the crash.