SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — A lawsuit filed Monday blames civilian makers of an Army Black Hawk helicopter for a fatal crash in Georgia eight months ago, saying manufacturers failed to install a tiny part that caused the tail rotor to malfunction and sent the aircraft spinning out of control.
The Jan. 16 crash during a training flight at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah killed the co-pilot, 30-year-old Capt. Clayton O. Carpenter of Brooklyn, New York, and seriously injured two other crew members onboard — the pilot, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jon Ternstrom of Walnut Creek, California, and the crew chief, Spc. Cameron Witzler of Clarksville, Tennessee.
The crew belonged to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, also known as the Night Stalkers. The elite unit trains soldiers to fly helicopters behind enemy lines under cover of darkness and was responsible for flying Navy SEALs into Pakistan during the 2010 raid in which Osama Bin Laden was killed. The regiment is headquartered at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, but has a battalion stationed in Savannah.
Carpenter's mother and the two surviving soldiers filed suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court in California against Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., which manufactured the Black Hawk, and other companies involved in the design and manufacture of the helicopter's components. They are seeking unspecified damages from the companies, which are based in or registered to do business in California.
An Army investigation completed this summer pinned the crash on a failure in the helicopter's tail rotor. The aircraft was missing a small cotter safety pin used to hold a nut in place, and that nut came loose — disconnecting pilots' controls from the rotor, said Maj. Allen Hill, a spokesman for the Army helicopter unit. The malfunction caused the Black Hawk to spin out of control and slam into the ground.
"That one tiny piece cost someone his life," said Timothy Loranger, an attorney for Carpenter's mother and the two survivors. "It really comes from someone's failure in quality assurance to check and make sure all the parts have been installed."
A spokeswoman for Sikorsky did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Monday afternoon. Hill said the Army unit had no comment on the lawsuit.
The complaint says Carpenter died from severe internal injuries and that Ternstrom, 40, and Witzler, 23, still suffer from injuries that have prevented them from returning to duty in the Army. It says seats in the helicopter failed to absorb shock from the crash as they were supposed to and a crash alert system designed to notify air traffic controllers immediately also failed.
Hill said other Black Hawk crews in the Army unit were ordered to inspect their aircraft for defects and missing parts following the crash. He said he's not aware of any other problems being discovered.