Families sue helicopter contractor over fatal crash
Stars and Stripes October 18, 2009
AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — Family members of three U.S. servicemembers killed in a UH-60 helicopter crash in 2007 have filed a lawsuit in a U.S. District Court against the company charged with maintaining the aircraft.
The suit, announced by New York attorney Hunter J. Shkolnik in a news release Thursday, alleges that DynCorp International failed to maintain the helicopter adequately, resulting in a crash that killed six servicemembers and injured five more. The Black Hawk, based with Company G, 52nd Aviation Regiment at Aviano, crashed on the banks of the Piave River on Nov. 8, 2007.
Family members of Air Force Capt. Cartize Durham, Air Force Staff Sgt. Mark Spence and Army Capt. Christian Skoglund filed the suit Oct. 5 in the San Antonio Division for the Western District of Texas, a court clerk confirmed Friday.
Also killed in the crash were Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Rogers, Senior Airman Kenneth Hauprich and Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 DavidAngelo Alvarez.
A preliminary investigation conducted by V Corps ruled out pilot error and environmental factors. It concluded the crash was either caused by control failure or a foreign object lodged in the controls. It also mentioned that pilots had complained about the aircraft’s performance previously, but had been told the situation had been addressed.
Shkolnik, with the firm Rheingold, Valet, Rheingold, Shkolnik & McCartney LLP, said that much of the suit is based on information from another investigation into the crash by the Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center at Fort Rucker, Ala.
A spokeswoman at the center said Friday that the crash investigation is complete, but has not been released.
Shkolnik said in a brief phone interview Friday that the families were seeking financial compensation, but he declined to provide an amount.
“We’re seeking what’s fair compensation for the families,” he said.
Douglas Ebner, a spokesman for DynCorp, said the company regrets the loss of life, but rejects Shkolnik’s interpretation of the company’s role in it.
“The families of those involved in the accident have our deepest sympathy,” Ebner said in a phone interview from the company’s headquarters in Falls Church, Va. “That needs to be said.”
But he said that some statements contained in Shkolnik’s release would be disputed.
And “we regret the plaintiff’s attempt to try this case in the media.”
DynCorp holds numerous contracts around the globe providing support for U.S. military operations.
“We’re very proud of our service in avionics support,” Ebner said. “And we’re very proud of our relationship serving the U.S. military.”
DynCorp announced earlier this year that it had been awarded a contract to provide maintenance support for Army helicopters in Europe. The contract was supposed to start in July. A 21st Theater Sustainment Command official could not confirm Friday whether the contract is in force.
Shkolnik said a judge has been assigned to the case and he expected to attend the first hearing before the end of the year.