MIAMI (CBS4) – The same model helicopter that crashed Wednesday in a Southwest Miami-Dade parking lot, killing its two passengers, has a devastating past that prompted the manufacturer to issue an order to fix to the fuel tanks.
CBS4 News reported on problems with Robinson helicopters in the fall of 2008, two years after a deadly crash in the Dominican Republic that left four people dead.
Dominican and U.S. investigators determined the helicopter came apart when the skin on the rotor blade delaminated in mid-flight. The family of one of the victims, Delio Gonzalez, filed a lawsuit against Robinson claiming the company improperly made and tested the rotor blades.
“This is a public safety issue, a very preventable one,” Miami attorney Ervin Gonzalez said. “The risk isn’t just the people in the helicopters. They are flying over urban areas, big cities.”
Aviation attorneys have also sued Robinson claiming the gas tank on the choppers are improperly designed and will burst and catch fire even in low impact crashes.
“The existing tank is dangerously defective because when you have a crash it punctures the tank which is unprotected by any fuel bladder or casing,” said Ron Goldman, a Los Angeles based aviation attorney who has filed numerous lawsuits involving Robinson helicopters.
Goldman said the unprotected fuel tanks burst into flames. In the Miami crash, the chopper caught fire when it went down but from witness accounts it appears the two victims may have died before the fire started.
Robinson helicopters issued a retro-fit order to make the fuel tanks stronger, but owners have until April 30th to comply. It’s not known if the helicopter involved in the crash near Tamiami Airport had its fuel tank re-trofitted.