A $14M settlement has been reached with family members of a flight nurse and a paramedic who died last year when an emergency medical services helicopter crashed into the Laguna Madre, Texas.
The settlement resolves a lawsuit that family members of Raul Garcia, 40, and Michael Sanchez, 39, filed against Metro Aviation Inc., the company that operated the Eurocopter AS350, and South Texas Emergency Care Foundation.
Metro Aviation, was operating out of Harlingen as Valley AirCare, and South Texas Emergency Care Foundation, is a community-owned nonprofit organization that provides emergency medical services in the Harlingen area. Valley AirCare is its air medical division.
The helicopter crashed in the Laguna Madre near South Padre Island the night of Feb. 5, 2008, killing Garcia, Sanchez and pilot Robert Goss, 55.
Investigators recovered the aircraft’s fuselage three days after the crash, about 2.5 miles west of the South Padre Island Convention Centre.
The National Transportation Safety Board determined the probable cause as “the pilot’s failure to maintain aircraft control resulting in the helicopter impacting the water.
“Factors contributing to the accident were the pilot’s inadvertent flight into instrument meteorological conditions, and the low ceiling, dark night conditions, and the pilot’s lack of recent instrument flying experience.”
According to National Weather Service reports, sustained winds ranged from 25 to 30 mph on the night of the crash, with gusts up to 40 mph.
A fog bank over the lagoon near the landing zone also hampered visibility, according to the law firm.
Aviation expert Arthur B. Childers, of Aviation Safety and Analysis, testified in a deposition that the pilot experienced spatial disorientation after encountering low clouds near the landing area.
According to the Plaintiffs’ lawyers, Goss had little experience operating a helicopter using instruments as a means of navigation rather than sight, even though Metro Aviation had a policy requiring monthly instrument training sessions.
“Despite this policy requiring instrument proficiency … Harlingen was one of the only three Metro Aviation Bases that had no monthly instrument proficiency training program,” according to the Plaintiffs’ lawyers. “Harlingen was the only Metro Aviation base that employed seasonal pilots. Harlingen did not have night-vision goggles for its pilots. All of these played a role in the crash of Air Care One.”
As a result of the crash, the law firm says, Metro Aviation implemented changes to enhance safety when conducting operations in the South Padre Island area.
The changes included improved instrument proficiency training and the requirement that night-vision goggles be provided to all pilots.
The company has also forbidden open-water approaches, requiring all pilots to follow the Queen Isabella Memorial Bridge to enhance visual reference, and pilots have been instructed to turn down flights if weather conditions, ceilings or visibility are at minimum safety thresholds, the news release states.
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