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Helicopter crash case goes to jury

March 15, 2012 at 2:06 PM

PORTLAND, Ore., March 15 (UPI) -- A $117 million lawsuit involving a helicopter crash in California that killed nine firefighters was sent to a jury for deliberation Thursday.

In final summations Wednesday, lawyers offered opposing reasons the Sikorsky S-61N helicopter crashed and burned in 2008, moments after takeoff, ferrying firefighters from a remote helipad to a base camp, The (Portland) Oregonian reported. Four people escaped the wreckage, but nine died in what is considered the deadliest air tragedy of working firefighters in U.S. history.

The case, heard in Multnomah County Circuit Court in Portland, Ore., was filed against General Electric, the aircraft's engine builder, by surviving pilot William Coultas and the estate of one of the victims, Roark Schwanenberg.

In his closing argument, plaintiff attorney Greg Anderson said GE had known for six years of fuel control valve problems in the engines built for the S-61N, and that crash was caused by a valve failure.

Kevin Smith, GE's attorney, pointed out the helicopter was 1,400 pounds overweight at takeoff, and that pilots were relying on inadequate power capability data. The National Transportation Safety Board concluded the helicopter was actually 3,168 pounds overweight, court evidence indicates.

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