Stop trying to pin the blame on others when you screw up.
I have to blog this because I’m pretty fired up about it.
This morning, I got an email message from a lawyer looking for an R44 “consultant”, someone who could
…educate us on the practical day to day operations of an R44. As a consultant, we would not reveal your name or association to anyone. We simply need someone to call when we have a question.
The email message provided enough information that I was able to track down the accident report for the accident the lawyer is working on. Although he didn’t say so, he made it pretty obvious that both Robinson Helicopter Company and the maker of the R44 Raven II’s “auxiliary” fuel pump could be targets of a legal action.
I read the accident report. Without going into details — in this instance, I want to protect the identifies of the parties involved — it was a pretty clear case of pilot errors in judgement and execution. As I summed it up in my email response:
The pilot elects to make an off-airport landing at very high density altitude to take a leak, starts to take off, then overreacts to a yellow caution light and tries to perform a run-on landing in rough terrain.
The helicopter rolled over and caught fire. The pilot and passenger were badly burned.
The details of the Full Narrative Probable Cause accident report paint a picture of a low-time private pilot who flies less than 100 hours a year making a very long cross-country flight in mountainous terrain. There’s evidence of poor flight planning and poor fuel management. But most evidence points to poor judgement on the part of the pilot. Nothing was wrong with the helicopter. It performed as expected in the situation it was put into. The pilot simply made a series of bad judgement calls.
How many times have I seen this in accident reports? Too many to count! The vast majority of aviation accidents are caused by pilot error. Period. This case is no different.
Yet there’s a lawyer involved and that means someone’s thinking about a lawsuit.
Sure, why not? Why not blame Robinson for not issuing [yet] another Safety Notice, specifically warning pilots about landing in mountain meadows at more than 10,000 feet density altitude? Why not blame them for allowing cockpit caution lights to illuminate when the pilot is operating close to rough terrain at maximum power? Why not blame them for not forcing pilots to tattoo emergency procedures on the back of their right hand so they can easily consult them during flight? And the pump manufacturer — why not blame them for making pumps that can have low pressure indications that trigger a caution light?
Why in the world would the pilot in command even consider taking the blame for the results of his own poor judgement?
Because it’s the right thing to do? Am I the only person who actually cares about silly things like that?
As I told the lawyer in my email response,
It sickens me that people can’t admit they made a mistake and get on with their lives. It sickens me that lawyers go after deep-pocket manufacturers to squeeze them for money when they are not at fault. Lawsuits like this are hurting our country, destroying small businesses like mine by jacking up expenses for insurance and equipment “improvements” we don’t really need.
Yes, it’s unfortunate that the helicopter crashed and the people inside it were burned. But it isn’t Robinson’s fault. And it isn’t the pump maker’s fault. The pilot needs to understand this and stop thinking about promises of big settlements. He needs to stop trying to blame others for his mistakes.
Do you think they’ll contact me again about being a consultant? Now that would be a bad judgement call indeed.
Note: If you plan to comment on this post, please limit your comments to the topic of inappropriate legal action. I will not approve any comments that attempt to discuss this particular accident or my summary of it. I assure you that my conclusions are fact-based; you can probably find the accident report if you try hard enough and judge for yourself. The last thing I need is for lawyers to start coming after me.