Families of 2 killed in Duke Life Flight crash blame engine manufacturer, pilot in lawsuit

Emergency responders on the scene of a helicopter crash Sept. 8, 2017 in Perquimans County, North Carolina. Four people were killed when a Duke Life Flight helicopter crashed. Credit: WRAL

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN/AP) — The families of two people killed in a September crash of a Duke Life Flight helicopter in rural northeastern North Carolina have filed a lawsuit against the makers of the helicopter and its engines and the estate of the pilot.

The lawsuit contends that a combination of pilot error and a known problem with the engines contributed to the crash, which killed all four people aboard the flight.

Related: NTSB recovers audio and video recordings from crash

The families of Mary Susan White Bartlett, the patient on the flight, and Kristopher Harrison, a flight nurse, are the plaintiffs.

The pilot, Jeffrey Burke, died in the crash, as did flight nurse Crystal Sollinger, whose family and estate are not involved in the lawsuit.

“All evidence points to a blocked engine drain line,” said the plaintiff’s attorney, Gary C. Robb, in a news release.

Robb is a Missouri-based expert in helicopter-related litigation.

Robb said the plaintiffs believe the blocked line led to an engine fire, and then engine shutdown. He said a crash in January 2017 first brought the engine problem to regulatory and company officials’ attention.

Related: Memorial service for four killed in Duke Life Flight crash

The FAA released a bulletin describing the engine problem last month, specifically referencing both the South Dakota crash and the North Carolina crash.

“This was absolutely a preventable crash,” Robb said in the news release.

The suit also contends that Burke, the pilot, should have continued forward flight and executed an autorotation landing maneuver.

A National Transportation Safety Board preliminary report days after the Sept. 8 crash said witnesses saw dark smoke streaming from the helicopter before it crashed in a field.

The French engine maker Safran, and the European helicopter company, Airbus Helicopter, as well as their American distributors, are named in the suit. None of them immediately responded to requests for comment.

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