Cougar Helicopters sues manufacturer and feds over fatal N.L. chopper crash

A lawsuit claiming damages of almost $27 million accuses Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. of “reckless behaviour and wilful misconduct” in the deadly Cougar helicopter crash off Newfoundland.

The wreckage of Cougar Helicopter flight 491 is displayed to the media as the Transportation Safety Board reports on its findings. A lawsuit claiming damages of almost $27 million accuses Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. of "reckless behaviour and wilful misconduct" in the Cougar helicopter crash that killed 17 people off Newfoundland.

The wreckage of Cougar Helicopter flight 491 is displayed to the media as the Transportation Safety Board reports on its findings. A lawsuit claiming damages of almost $27 million accuses Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. of "reckless behaviour and wilful misconduct" in the Cougar helicopter crash that killed 17 people off Newfoundland.

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — A lawsuit claiming damages of almost $27 million accuses Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. of “reckless behaviour and wilful misconduct” in the deadly Cougar helicopter crash off Newfoundland.

Cougar Helicopters and eight insurance companies led by LLoyds of London make the allegations in a statement of claim filed in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The claims have not been proven in court and statements of defence have not been filed.

Also named as defendants are the federal minister of transport and Helicopter Support Inc., Sikorsky’s parts and repair subsidiary.

The lawsuit claims almost $27 million for combined damages and losses from the crash on March 12, 2009 that killed 17 of 18 people onboard.

It says Sikorsky used a “flawed” analysis to claim its helicopter could run without oil in its main gearbox for 30 minutes.

The pilots of Cougar Flight 491 reported a loss of pressure in the chopper’s main gearbox about 11 minutes before crashing into the North Atlantic.

“By promoting and advertising the S-92 as having a ’30-minute run-dry’ capacity, Sikorsky fraudulently misrepresented to buyers and operators the airworthiness and flight safety of the S-92,” says the claim.

“Such false pretense was made solely for the purpose of earning sales revenue” and showed “callous disregard for the risk of death or injury to crews and passengers of the S-92.”

Cougar Flight 491 was taking workers to the White Rose and Hibernia oilfields when the pilots reported a loss of oil pressure in the main gearbox that powers the aircraft’s rotor drive.

The statement of claim says it was the crew’s first indication of a problem.

“Upon that observation … the crew elected not to ditch the helicopter but immediately turned the helicopter towards the nearest landfall, which was well within 30 minutes flying time,” says the claim.

Minutes after heading for shore, the Sikorsky S-92 plunged into the Atlantic Ocean about 55 kilometres east of St. John’s.

The lawsuit cites as the “immediate” cause of the disaster the failure of two of the three titanium studs that secure the oil filter bowl assembly to the helicopter’s main gearbox.

Yet Sikorsky and Helicopter Support Inc. knew the studs “were susceptible to fatigue cracking and failure” after the same helicopter model made an emergency landing in July 2008 in Australia, the claim says.

It accuses Sikorsky of not taking immediate action to fix the problem, and says the minister of transport failed to monitor the choppers or warn operators that they no longer complied with Canadian certification requirements.

Two weeks after the crash, the Transportation Safety Board said the studs broke in flight, resulting in the loss of oil pressure.

Shortly after the discovery, S-92s were grounded worldwide until the titanium studs were replaced with steel.

Connecticut-based Sikorsky has filed an application asking that the lawsuit be stayed pending rulings on other applications proceeding through the U.S. District Court of Connecticut.

It will also argue during a Supreme Court hearing on Sept. 10 in St. John’s that the lawsuit should be dealt with in the U.S.

The safety board is still investigating the crash. A report on the first phase of a helicopter safety inquiry is due by Sept. 30.

Sikorsky has since redesigned the S-92’s oil lubricating system.