Claim Improper Maintenance, Faulty Design Led To Mishap
It's something you
might not think about very much, but lawsuits involving the
families of aircraft that go down during wartime are not unheard
of. Now, the widows of three servicemen killed when their MH-53
Pave Low went down in Afghanistan two years ago are suing defense
Melissa Walters, Kara Kerwood and Yvette LaPointe-Plumhoff
maintain the Pave Low's auxiliary tanks failed to jettison,
according to the Associated Press, which contributed to the engine
failure that brought the aircraft down on November 23,
The aircraft was carrying 13 passengers and crew members on an
infiltration mission when one of its twin engines failed. The other
engine was unable to successfully power the aircraft at that
altitude... and the pilots attempted an emergency landing. They
tried to jettison the aux tanks, but were unable to do so,
according to the US Air Force report on the accident.
Then, as they continued efforts to bring the aircraft safely
down to the ground, they lost the second engine. The MH-53 landed
on a riverbank, rolled over and burst into flames. Eight of the
soldiers on board were able to get out of the aircraft safely. The
remains of the other five were so badly burned that no positive
identification could be made. They're buried at Arlington National
Cemetery in a common grave with a single headstone.
Three of the widows are suing Sikorsky, makers of the MH-53 --
as well as Lear Siegler Services and Smiths Aerospace, the two
companies that installed and maintained the external fuel
The Air Force accident report says there wasn't enough written
guidance available to the pilots for checking the status of the
fuel tank jettison system. But, like an NTSB report, that's not
admissible in court.
The suit accuses Lear
Siegler and Smiths of failing to instruct military maintenance
personnel on how to properly check the aircraft, to ensure the
jettison system's electrical components function properly. They
also say the system was at fault because there was no alternative
way to jettison the tanks.
Lear Siegler denies any responsibility for the crash. Smiths
says it's still trying to figure out whether it installed the aux
tanks in the first place, but has started a review.
"To date, we have not identified any problems with this
equipment," said company spokeswoman Jennifer Villarreal.
Sikorsky says it's not responsible for any misuse of the
aircraft by Air Force pilots.