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Families of sailors killed in 2021 helicopter crash sue aircraft manufacturer

A Navy investigation showed a mechanical failure caused the deadly crash.
Navy Helicopter Crash
Posted at 1:44 PM, Aug 31, 2023

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — The families of U.S. Navy sailors who died in a helicopter crash following a mechanical failure have filed a lawsuit against the aircraft's manufacturer.

ABC 10News previously reported on Aug. 31, 2021, an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter with 11 sailors aboard crashed as the pilot tried to land on the USS Abraham Lincoln, which was about 60 nautical miles off of San Diego's coast at the time.

Five sailors were killed in the crash, while six others survived with injuries.

The Navy identified the sailors who died in the crash as follows: Lt. Bradley A. Foster, 29, a pilot from Oakhurst, California; Lt. Paul R. Fridley, 28, a pilot from Annandale, Virginia; Naval Air Crewman (Helicopter) 2nd Class James P. Buriak, 31, from Salem, Virginia; Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Sarah F. Burns, 31, from Severna Park, Maryland; and Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Bailey J. Tucker, 21, from St. Louis, Missouri.

Sailors identified following helicopter crash.png

Buriak's widow, Tucker's mother and Burns' widower filed the lawsuit against Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, which is owned by aerospace company Lockheed Martin, on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2023.

The Navy announced on May 3, 2022, its command investigation revealed a damper hose failed on the helicopter, causing "severe vibrations" as the aircraft was landing on the Lincoln. According to Navy officials, the rotor hit the deck and the helicopter fell into the sea and sank.

Based on the investigation, the Navy says there was neither evidence of pilot error nor weather conditions contributing to the crash.

The lawsuit expands on the exact nature of the mechanical problems, pointing out the differences between Sikorsky's original UH-60 Blackhawk Helicopter versus the version of the helicopter it provided the Navy.

The original Blackhawk design has four, independent hydraulic accumulators (one for each blade) in its main rotor damper system, so the loss of fluid in any of them will not affect the other three — lowering the risk of excessive vibrations and ground resonance.

Meanwhile, Sikorsky's design for the Seahawk has a single, shared accumulator for four dampers. According to the lawsuit, hydraulic fluid is sent to each damper via four hoses, which are labeled with separate colors.

Based on this design, if any of the four hoses break, all of the dampers will lose pressure, the court document states. The lawsuit also alleges the location of the hoses made them "susceptible to kinking and other damage" during maintenance on the main rotor.

Additionally, Sikorsky did not outline "adequate inspection criteria" to find mechanical damage from bending or kinking to those hoses.

The lawsuit states the crash happened after the helicopter's yellow damper hose suffered "catastrophic failure" during the flight, leading to no dampening for the main rotor system "which induced severe vibrations and uncontrollable ground resonance upon touchdown."

The hose failed during the flight because of mechanical damage caused by a "spindle pry bar during main rotor maintenance," the court document says.

The complaint for damages alleges Sikorsky was negligent, since it failed to warn the Navy about the design defect. According to the plaintiffs' attorneys, Sikorsky is able to be sued for wrongful death because of rules outlined in the Death on the High Seas Act.

The lawsuit alleges Sikorsky was aware of the "unreasonably dangerous and defective design" that endangered the Navy crew and ultimately killed the sailors.

The families are suing for the following damages:

  • Loss of financial support from the deceased
  • Loss of reasonable value of household services decedents would've provided
  • Loss of love, companionship, comfort and care
  • Loss of consortium
  • Burial expenses
  • Physical pain, suffering and emotional distress sailors underwent during crash
  • Any other damages to be proven at trial

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.
ABC 10News reached out to Lockheed Martin for comment on this story, and a spokesperson says the company does not comment on pending litigation.

You can read the full, 12-page lawsuit here.

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