Bay Area attorney Gerald Sterns is blunt. The acclaimed aviation attorney claims Robinson helicopters are flying Pintos.
Gerald Sterns commented moments ago on the most recent Robinson helicopter crash, after it somewhat typically, burst into flames, shortly after take-off from Kendall-Tamiami Executive Airport. The pilot and passenger died.
“Again?” asked Sterns. This is beginning to mirror our current case against Robinson.”
As long established US product liability lawyers on the plaintiffs side, Sterns & Walker have spent years attempting to draw attention to local manufacturers of Robinson helicopters and their long-standing fire issues.
Specifically, Sterns has handled many cases involving fire issues of the R44 & R22 including an ongoing case in the California court which appears almost a mirror image of the recent Australian disaster, not reported in the U.S.
Unfortunately, while outside U.S. publications have been spot on in highlighting the fire problem with Robinson, which has engulfed the company, not so with U.S. coverage.
Indeed, U.S. coverage almost immediately references “Pilot error” in their coverage.
But when it comes to Robinsons, Sterns has long claimed the issues are neither maintenance or “pilot error.”
The problem is and remains the design. From the inception of the R44 problems started to emerge with horrendous fires immediately following post low impact, low G force incident. These have continued unabated & unfixed by Robinson.
Not to be outdone, the problems have also been ignored by our FAA.
Sterns claims the essential issue is this: Robinson placed two rigid aluminum fuel tanks directly over the passenger cabin with virtually no barrier protection for occupants, and in very close proximity to red hot machinery, accompanied by a high RPM rotating mast components and other hazards.
These tanks and/or fuel lines can fail or be breached in any number of ways in an impact or even a runway rollover. In just a few seconds escaping fuel reaches a hot ignition point, then boom. Flaming fuel literally pours down on the passenger cabin. In one case Sterns noted, all aboard survived the landing impact but were incinerated in seconds with 4th degree burns, along with a 14 year old girl who happened to be just near the impact site.
Sterns also says Robinson has been well aware of their self-made issues for years. But Robinson seems to find it more profitable to avoid the expense of a redesign and/or retrofit and chooses instead fight the lawsuits.
Part of its legal MO has been to try to keep the cases that happen overseas (by far most of them as Robinson sells about 70% Of its helicopters overseas) out of its home courts in the USA, by claiming it is far more “convenient” to litigate the cases where they happen, thousands of miles from where is located the evidence of the fuel system design defect, any experts who could help prove it & lawyers that can force accountability.
A combination of events & cases eventually forced Robinson to redesign its fuel system for new models after 2010 with flexible bladder type fuel tanks that “give” & not rupture, but dragged heels on getting the existing fleet retrofitted, & insisted in sticking customers with the cost of the fire resistant systems that should have in the machines from the start.
The retrofit came too late for probably dozens of cases, including Jaspers Bush, a Sterns & Walker case (Philippines may 2012) as well as the latest one from Oz, and Miami.
“Unfortunately,” said Sterns, “there will be more. After all, the Australian Air Authority estimated that maybe as much as 90% of the pre 2010 fleet were still with the old tanks. Robinson says that they have sold over 6000 R44s.”
Sterns cases are in the U.S. as well as Europe and Down Under. He’s worked with Kiwi clients & lawyers before, beginning with the Air New Zealand, Antarctica crash. The Miami crash is the latest in what seems to be a long line of accidents waiting to happen.
We spoke briefly before Sterns cell phone fizzled. But Sterns did say Sterns & Walker has extensive files, expert analyses, case & accident histories not restricted by gag orders or confidentiality agreements. He invited any and all media to peruse them.
Sterns said given FAA reluctance to address issues, media might be interested in asking why the body to address this, turns a blind eye, when whispers continue about these Flying Pintos.