GE Culpable in 2008 Sikorsky Crash, Jury Says

Jury orders engine manufacturer to pay $70 million in damages.

A jury on Tuesday ordered General Electric to pay $70 million in damages for its role in the August 2008 crash of a Sikorsky S-61N helicopter.

The verdict came after the surviving pilot and the family of the co-pilot killed in the crash filed a $177 million lawsuit against General Electric for negligence associated with an alleged design flaw in the CT58-140 engines used in the S-61N.

The plaintiffs argued that GE was aware of a problem with the engine’s fuel control valve for several years, but failed to take appropriate action. During the trial, they cited an e-mail sent internally within GE the day after the 2008 crash discussing the size of the engine’s fuel filter as evidence of the company’s concern over the issue.

The plaintiffs argue that alleged flaw triggered the deadly crash of the S-61N shortly after takeoff in mountainous terrain near Weaverville, California, taking the lives of the pilot-in-command, the safety crewmember and seven firefighters. The jury agreed, finding the company 57 percent responsible for the accident, placing remaining fault on the helicopter’s owner, Oregon-based Carson Helicopters, and its manufacturer.

NTSB investigators, however, attributed the crash to excessive weight on takeoff, placing blame on Carson Helicopters for purposefully providing information that exaggerated the helicopter’s load-carrying capacity, as well as on the crew for failing to properly address the fact that the helicopter had flown close to its maximum performance levels repeatedly.

GE Aviation told the Associated Press the company was very disappointed with the verdict.

“Our position has been all along that this verdict completely contradicts findings by the NTSB,” spokesman Rick Kennedy said.

The company has said it will appeal the jury’s decision.