Woman Blames Copter Maker and Operator for Son’s Death

February 23, 2009

A Texas woman whose son was killed when a helicopter headed to an oil platform crashed in the Gulf of Mexico is suing two companies in the death.

Gayle Spikes filed a lawsuit against helicopter transportation company Rotorcraft Leasing Co. LLC and Fort Worth, Texas-based Bell Helicopter Textron Inc., the craft’s manufacturer.

Her son James Cody Smalts, 23, of Conroe, was one of five men who died Dec. 11 when the air taxi helicopter they were in crashed south of Sabine Pass.

According to the lawsuit, Smalts’ he had been in the water for about 41/2 hours before his body was found. He died from asphyxia due to drowning, with complications from hypothermia, the Beaumont Enterprise reported.

Before the helicopter crash, snow fell over Southeast Texas for the first time in decades. The lawsuit said “the helicopter sat outside, uncovered, in an ice and snowstorm and was covered with ice and snow” before the flight left.

The lawsuit alleges that Bell Helicopter was negligent by designing the helicopter to be “susceptible to engine failure caused by ingestion of snow and ice.” Rotorcraft was negligent in the maintenance and operation of the helicopter, the suit contends.

A man who answered the telephone at Rotorcraft on Saturday declined to comment. Bell Helicopter did not return a message left by The Associated Press on Saturday.

A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board said pilot Joseph Laugelle of Quincy, Mass., filed a flight plan with the company’s communication center. But it did not receive a status report 15 minutes later, which was company policy.

Spikes seeks to recover funeral and burial expenses plus damages for the mental anguish and pain and suffering her son experienced while waiting to be rescued.

Broussard, La.-based Rotorcraft provides helicopter transportation for oil and gas companies in Louisiana, Texas, and Florida.

Bell Helicopter makes commercial and military aircraft.

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.