HONOLULU (CN) - The parents of a Marine killed in a 2015 helicopter crash in Hawaii sued the makers of the aircraft in Federal Court, claiming design flaws allowed sand to get into the engine and led to the crash.
Michael and Charlesa Determan sued Boeing, Bell Helicopter and Eaton Aerospace on Monday on behalf of the estate of their son Matthew Determan, who died two days after the MV-22 Osprey he was riding in crash-landed at Bellows Air Force base in Waimanalo, Hawaii on May 17, 2015.
"Mayhem 11" was ferrying troops from the USS Essex and attempting to land on a dirt strip when downwash from the twin rotors kicked up a huge cloud of dust that got sucked into the craft's engines, causing one to stall out. The helicopter then plummeted to the ground and burst into flames.
Eyewitnesses describe black smoke rising above the trees and people rushing to the scene to help the injured, with one 50-year-old doctor hauling herself over a high chain-link fence. Determan and others had to be transported the 15 miles to Castle Hospital in civilian pick-up trucks as paramedics waited outside a locked gate.
Of the 22 Marines aboard, one died on impact. Twelve others were injured.
At issue in the suit is the ability of the twin "tiltrotor" aircraft, which takes off and lands like a helicopter and flies like a plane, to do what it is supposed to do.
Standard operating procedure dictates that a pilot can hover in reduced visibility for 60 seconds. But the pilot of Mayhem 11 was only hovering for 30 seconds when he attempted a second time to set the helicopter down.
While a Marine Corps investigation has found that the pilot's error in decision-making was largely to blame for the crash, they have at the same time ordered MV-22 pilots to scrap dusty landings they can't complete within 35 seconds.
At fault is the V-22's engine air particle separator, a filter that has undergone successive modifications and is scheduled to be replaced again in 2017.
Representing the Determans are Cole Portis and Mike Andrews of Beasley Allen in Montgomery, Alabama, who successfully handled a 2002 lawsuit against Osprey manufacturers following a December 2000 crash in North Carolina that killed all four Marines aboard.
"Often one of the biggest obstacles in product liability litigation is created when manufacturers intentionally hide defects and documentation," Andrews said. "A recent example is GM's decade-long cover-up of its defective ignition switches."
He added, "The Hawaii crash which killed Matthew Determan is another preventable tragedy in a long line of crashes associated with the Osprey program. The Marines deserve the very best equipment and the Osprey is not it. To send the Marines - who by nature are expeditionary forces - into all parts of the world with aircraft that only operate in safe, dry and paved environments is at least negligent and reckless and at most criminal on the part of these manufacturers."
The Determans are suing for negligence and product liability, and seek special, compensatory and punitive damages.
They are represented locally by Melvin Agena of Honolulu.
The dream of Bell Helicopter engineer Richard Spivey, the Osprey program took flight when Ronald Reagan's first secretary of the Navy, John Lehman, saw a prototype at the 1981 Paris Air Show and fell in love, says author Richard Whittle in "The Dream Machine."
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