A New Hampshire couple who went to Kaua’i to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary, but instead suffered debilitating injuries in a tour helicopter crash that also killed one passenger last year, have settled their lawsuit for $9.5 million. The suit was filed in Circuit Court on O’ahu late last year against the Boeing Co. (which merged with McDonnell Douglas in 1997), Aluminum Precision Products Inc. and Smoky Mountain Helicopters. The couple, Judy and Doug Barton, were among four passengers on an Inter-Island Helicopters air tour when it crashed on March 11, 2007, on Kaua’i’s north shore. The helicopter’s tail section blew apart in flight, causing it to crash. Witnesses said they saw at least two pieces of the helicopter fall into the ocean. The Bartons, on what was supposed to have been a 55-minute tour, were about 1,000 feet up when the helicopter began to experience trouble. They were seated in the rear of the helicopter and suffered spine injuries when it crashed.
One passenger was killed and a fourth passenger suffered serious injuries. The helicopter pilot also was injured. It was the second fatal crash of a Kaua’i tour helicopter in three days and occurred just five miles from where a Heli USA Airways helicopter had crashed, killing the pilot and three of his passengers. Judy Barton, 52, who was left with no feeling below her waist and with no bowel or bladder functions, will require daily nursing help. Her husband, Doug, 61, suffered a similar spinal cord injury. He can walk, but not without experiencing severe pain. So far, the couple has incurred $750,000 in medical bills.
The cause of the crash was determined to be a defective fitting that connected the tail rotor. The pilot attempted a procedure known as autorotation to slow the helicopter’s descent, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the crash. After the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board grounded all Hughes 500 series helicopters. Two that were in operation in New Zealand were found to have the same defect to fittings in the tail rotor. The crashed helicopter was built by McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Systems in 1987 and was owned by Smoky Mountain Helicopters Inc., doing business as Inter-Island Helicopters. The Bartons’ suit named Aluminum Precision Products Inc., the manufacturer of the defective fitting, and Smoky Mountain Helicopters as Defendants. The settlement was reached through mediation and because of full disclosure from McDonnell Douglas. Research showed that the same helicopter had 16 tail rotor failures, ten of which were due to tail rotor metal fatigue. Richard Fried, Jr., a Honolulu lawyer, represented the Bartons and did a very good job for them.
Source: Honolulu Advertiser
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