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Families of four Marines killed in 2018 helicopter crash sue companies over claims of faulty parts

The Marines killed in a CH-53E Super Stallion crash include, clockwise from top left, Gunnery Sgt. Derik R. Holley, First Lt. Samuel D. Phillips, Capt. Samuel A. Schultz, and Lance Cpl. Taylor J. Conrad.

U.S. MARINE CORPS

By ROSE L. THAYER | STARS AND STIRPES Published: April 9, 2020

The families of four Marines killed in a helicopter crash in 2018 have filed a lawsuit against two companies, claiming they provided faulty parts for the aircraft that led to the fatal accident in southern California.

Defendants Kampi Components and Diamond Rubber knew or should have known they provided a noncompliant part that caused the Marine CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter to crash on April 3, 2018, in El Centro, near the U.S. border with Mexico, according to court documents filed March 31 in the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia County, Pa.

Capt. Samuel Schultz, 28, Capt. Samuel Phillips, 27, Gunnery Sgt. Derik R. Holley, 33, and Lance Cpl. Taylor J. Conrad, 24, died in the crash. They were assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 465, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, Calif.

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The families were informed following a Marine Corps investigation that “the root cause of the crash was the failure of a component part known as a bypass valve button,” according to the court documents.

The part’s failure caused what is known as a “hydraulic lock” condition, resulting in a loss of flight control of the helicopter. In this condition, pilots could not do anything to regain control of the aircraft and are “blameless in this crash,” according to the lawsuit.

Investigators concluded a bypass valve button manufactured by Alabama-based Diamond Rubber Products Co. and supplied by Pennsylvania-headquartered Kampi Components Co., Inc., used rubber that decomposes when exposed to hydraulic fluid, said David S. Casey Jr., managing partner at San Diego-based law firm CaseyGerry. He represents the families of Holley and Conrad.

“Disintegrating rubber in the valve button caused a dangerous blockage in the helicopter’s hydraulic system – making the flight control system uncontrollable and inoperable,” he said.

Neither company responded Thursday to inquiries about the claims made in the lawsuit.

The families seek a jury trial to determine the appropriate amount of damages “sufficient to punish and deter them for their misconduct and to deter others from similar misconduct in the future,” according to the lawsuit.

“There was clearly a defective product installed in the helicopter that led to this tragic crash -- leaving the families with a devastating loss,” Casey said.

The Holley and Conrad families chose to move forward with the lawsuit, he said, to ensure companies act in a responsible fashion.

“It is important that the companies that provide equipment that our military relies on be safe, effective and properly maintained,” Casey said.

The 52-page complaint outlines how the investigation determined this as the cause of the accidents and claims the two companies committed fraud, breach of warranties, negligence and liability for their products.

Prior to the crash, the companies knew the critical importance of compliance, knew they continued to use faulty parts and were aware that a fix was available, according to court documents.

Schultz, the aircraft commander, is represented in the suit by his father Mitchell Schultz. Phillips was the helicopter’s second pilot and was posthumously promoted. He is represented by his father Michael Phillips. Conrad is represented by his daughter, A.L. Conrad, and Holley by his widow Kasey Lee Holley and his son, D.R. Holley. The two men served at the aircraft’s gun doors during the accident.

Outside of punitive damages, the families also seek damages related to the lost loved one’s loss of past and future earnings, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of life’s pleasures, fear of impending death, conscious and physical pain and suffering, pre-impact and post-impact fright and terror, according to court documents. They also seek damages for their own loss of care, comfort, companionship and the expenses related to their Marine’s death.

The Law of Office Richard E. Genter is representing the family of Schultz and Bradley Stoll of Katzman, Lampert & Stoll is representing the family of Phillips.

Thayer.rose@stripes.com
Twitter: @Rose_Lori