A soldier who suffered severe spinal and head injuries in a 2013 helicopter crash in Afghanistan, and the family of another soldier who died in the crash, have sued engine-parts makers in a Pennsylvania court, claiming they "knowingly supply ... customers with components that fail."
The March 16, 2013, crash of a OH-58D Kiowa Warrior came during a test-fire exercise north of Kandahar, according to a copy of the Army investigation provided by Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, P.C., the Los Angeles-based firm representing then-1st Lt. Jonathon Kohl and the family of Chief Warrant Officer 3 James Groves.
The investigator, whose name is redacted in the report, blamed "engine failure at low altitude" for the crash, a failure likely caused by a "malfunctioning FADEC," or Full Authority Digital Electronic Control, which controls fuel flow to the engine.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 James Groves and 1st Lt. Jonathon Kohl
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Baum, Hedlund, Arist
The suit, first reported by The Washington Post, alleges Goodrich Pump and Engine Control Systems Inc. and Triumph Group Inc. "have concealed a high rate of defects" in the FADEC and "have failed in their duties to provide accurate and reliable troubleshooting information for the Kiowa aircraft," as well as proper warnings for the crews of those helicopters.
Triumph Group announced its acquisition of Goodrich in a news release dated two days after the crash. Triumph Group did not return calls and emails seeking comment. An Army spokeswoman said the service does not comment on pending litigation.
"The people who serve in the military put themselves in danger every day, and it's ridiculous that the danger that they face isn't minimized, especially when people know what's going on," said Timothy Loranger, a former Marine who is representing the plaintiffs. "It's important to me that we protect people. ... Ultimately, the goal is, let's not let this happen again."
Groves, the pilot, and co-pilot Kohl had finished a simulated engagement during the live-fire test and were turning to prepare for another simulation when a low-RPM warning sounded, the investigation states. The crash took place nine seconds later.
An overhead view of the wreckage. An investigation clear the pilot and co-pilot of any fault.
Photo Credit: Department of the Army
The report does not find fault with the actions of Groves or Kohl during those nine seconds — actions pieced together using helicopter wreckage, cockpit recordings, the investigator's own flight experiences and a radio transmission from Groves stating the helicopter was "going in." The investigation states that Groves executed the "proper emergency procedure."
Groves, who had nearly 4,400 flight hours, eventually performed a "flare maneuver" to "allow the aircraft to decelerate before impact and enable the aircraft to disintegrate in successive stages starting with the tail," the report states.
1st Lt. Jonathon Kohl now lives at a center specializing in brain and spinal cord rehabilitation.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, P.C.
Groves was found dead at the scene, according to the report. Rescuers dragged Kohl from the wreckage and onto a UH-60L Black Hawk for evacuation.
Kohl suffered "permanent physical injuries," according to the lawsuit. He uses a wheelchair, and his place of residence is listed in the suit as a center specializing in brain and spinal cord rehabilitation. Kohl's wife also is listed as a plaintiff.
The suit, filed March 2 with the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, seeks compensation of at least $100,000, "and any other relief which this Court deems just and proper."
Kevin Lilley is the features editor of Military Times.