Civil Trial for 2006 Robinson Helicopter Accident Begins
Since the introduction of the R-44 more than a decade ago, Robinson Helicopter Co. was allegedly aware of the vibrations present in the main rotor mast. According to a statement made by counsel Wednesday, those same vibrations contributed to the 2006 helicopter crash in Riverside County that left an experienced pilot and his brother-in-law dead.
During the opening statements of the Los Angeles Superior Court civil suit filed against the helicopter manufacturer in April 2008, attorney Kevin Boyle claimed, “They had 13 years to fix it and they never did. They masked the problem instead of solving it.”
Boyle is representing the widow and family of Leo Straatman, a passenger in the Robinson R-44 Raven II that crashed at approximately 2:30pm near Desert Center on May 1, 2006 when the tail boom shook off, causing the main rotor to hit the cabin and slice off one of pilot Frank Verellen’s legs. Attorney Brian Panish, representing the Verellen family, stated that the helicopter was roughly 85 minutes into its maiden voyage out of Zamperini Field on its way to southern Ontario, Canada, where it was to be ferried by the pilot to Zimmer Air Services Inc, an authorized Robinson dealer. According to Panish, 63-year-old Verellen was Zimmer’s chief pilot and he and 64-year-old Straatman owned a portion of the company.
According to Robinson Helicopter’s Raymond Hane, the crash was likely caused by pilot error. He stated that the craft was inspected by a Robinson test pilot prior to the flight and that the test pilot found nothing wrong. But Boyle stated that Robinson’s chief engineer admitted during a deposition that the vibration in the main rotor mast could result in the gearbox violently shaking. The engineer said that the company referred to this shaking as “chugging”, and that the company did not know the source of the issue.
“They continued to sell these things every day, and they didn’t know the cause,” Boyle stated. The attorney continued by saying that the company made minor adjustments to the rubber mounts in an effort to quell the shaking, but nothing more.