Claim: Helicopter Instructor’s Cell Phone Use Preceded Crash

A student pilot who survived a helicopter crash in December has filed lawsuits claiming his instructor was using FaceTime, a popular video chat application, on his cell phone during the instructional flight in a Robinson R22.

The lawsuits were filed by the student, Jonathan Desouza, and his lawyer against the flight school that operated the helicopter, Palm Beach Helicopters in South Florida, and others, according to a report in the Palm Beach Post.

According to the preliminary National Transportation Safety Board accident report, which was updated on January 6, the helicopter crashed in a grassy area about 700 feet northwest of the Runway 15 threshold at Palm Beach County Park Airport on December 29.

The instructor died in the crash and Desouza sustained serious injuries. Desouza recalled that he and the instructor were in an autorotational descent while practicing a simulated engine failure when the crash occurred.

There was no mention of the instructor using his cell phone in the NTSB report. However, "[Desouza] could not completely recall the sequence of events leading up to the accident, but stated that as the helicopter descended through 100 feet, he remembered the CFI saying, 'we're going down,'" the report said.

The instructor's cell phone records have not yet been examined.

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Pia Bergqvist joined FLYING in December 2010. A passionate aviator, Pia started flying in 1999 and quickly obtained her single- and multi-engine commercial, instrument and instructor ratings. After a decade of working in general aviation, Pia has accumulated almost 3,000 hours of flight time in nearly 40 different types of aircraft.

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