Clay Co. jury awards $21.7 million to families of 2013 medical helicopter crash victims

MANCHESTER, Ky. (WKYT) - A Clay County jury on Thursday night awarded $21.7 million to the families of an air ambulance crew killed when their helicopter crashed in 2013, the plaintiffs' attorney said.

Those families are now calling for a Federal Aviation Administration investigation into the company that made the helicopter.

Pilot Eddy Sizemore, flight paramedic Herman "Lee" Dobbs and flight nurse Jesse Jones all died when their helicopter crashed in the parking lot of Paces Elementary School - just 750 feet from its helipad - on the night of June 6, 2013.

Witnesses told investigators that the helicopter was seen "flying lower than normal" and "spinning" prior to impact, according to the National Transportation Safety Board's narrative of the crash.

Family members of the victims filed wrongful death lawsuits against Bell Helicopter Textron Inc., the company that made the helicopter.

A jury returned the $21.7 million verdict Thursday after deliberating for five hours, following a three-week trial that waded into complex and technical testimony about the helicopter's engineering and accident reconstruction, said Gary C. Robb, who represented the families.

The NTSB's final report stated that the crash was probably caused when, in foggy nighttime conditions, the pilot became disoriented and lost control, causing the main rotor to separate from the tail boom while still in flight.

Robb, a medical helicopter safety expert and aviation attorney, said the entire roof section of the helicopter and tail boom broke off of the helicopter because of a malfunction in the main rotor blade.

"In both internal documents and in court testimony, Bell Helicopter executives admitted that they had known about this serious defect in their main rotor blade manufacturing process for over 20 years," Robb said in a news release. "The company admitted that the main rotor blades did not meet their own manufacturing specifications."

Robb said that the company knew of the problem but did nothing to fix it.

"The families are demanding that the FAA launch an immediate investigation into Bell Helicopter," he said.

A spokesperson for Bell Helicopter said that the company will appeal.

"This was a tragic accident and we are saddened by the loss of life," Corporate Communications Manager Lindsey Hughes said in a statement to WKYT. "However, this accident was thoroughly investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board and they found no design or manufacturing issues with the aircraft or its components. While Bell can’t comment on any pending litigation there are many issues that need to be addressed by the Kentucky Court of Appeals and we look forward to the opportunity to do so."

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