As representatives of families of passengers who have been fatally burned in otherwise survivable R44 crashes, we urge the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to ground all Robinson R44’s that have not yet been retrofitted with safer fuel tanks.
According to Ronald L. M. Goldman, a veteran aviation accident trial attorney, who has handled many Robinson helicopter crashes, “Too many lives have been lost as a result of the defective design of the R44 fuel tank. Eleven more people have died since the retrofit order. Enough is enough, end this now.”
Australia is the first country to mandate the grounding of the un-retrofitted R44. Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) announced on April 5, 2013 that Robinson R44 helicopter owners have until the end of this month to retrofit their aircraft with bladder-type fuel tanks or be grounded. At issue are the R44’s rigid unprotected aluminum fuel tanks.
Many safety experts believe that post-crash fires in many low-impact R44 crashes may have been caused by these dangerous aluminum fuel tanks. California-based Robinson Helicopters, aware of the potential safety issue, released safety bulletin SB-78 in 2010 advising R44 owners to replace the aluminum fuel tank with a flexible, bladder-type fuel tank by 2014, but twice later revised the safety bulletin, pushing up the retrofit date to April 30, 2013.
CASA is enforcing the April 30 deadline, and according to the Australian Broadcast Corporation, it will ground the country’s 100 R44’s that have not been retrofitted with the new fuel tanks.
Recent R44 crashes in Australia involving post-crash fires have influenced CASA’s decision to ground the unsafe choppers. Just last month, a Robinson R44 crashed in Bulli Tops from an altitude of “treetop height,” according to witnesses. Helicopter accidents at this altitude may well be considered to be survivable, however, the chopper caught fire upon impact with the ground and four people lost their lives in the blaze.
Another R44 crashed and immediately caught fire last year in Jaspers Brush, killing filmmakers Mike DeGruy and Andrew Wight. The investigation into the Jaspers Brush crash is expected to be released by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) at the end of April. Many believe that the rigid aluminum fuel tank will be a contributing factor to the fatal accident.
In all, there have been 39 Robinson R44 crashes, resulting in 74 fatalities and 15 injuries as a result of a post-crash fire after a low-impact crash we believe to be otherwise survivable, according to research conducted by the Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman law firm, based in Los Angeles, California.