Louisiana Crash Survivor Sues Helicopter Maker

March 30, 2009

The lone survivor of a helicopter crash that killed eight people in Louisiana in January is suing the aircraft’s manufacturer and two other companies.

The federal lawsuit filed on behalf of Steven Yelton, of Floresville, Texas, and his wife, Kelly, seeks $22.5 million in damages from Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., PHI Inc. and Aeronautical Accessories Inc.

The suit claims PHI, the helicopter’s owner, installed a defective plexiglass windshield made by Aeronautical Accessories on the Sikorsky S-76C that plunged into a swamp near Morgan City on Jan. 4.

The cause of the crash remains under investigation, but the National Transportation Safety Board says the probe found evidence that a bird may have struck the chopper before it crashed. Tests on the wreckage found microscopic bird remains of a “hawk variety” on the pilot’s side of the helicopter’s windscreen, the NTSB said.

Yelton’s suit is at least the fourth filed by relatives of the two pilots and seven passengers who were aboard the helicopter, which was carrying workers to a Shell Oil Co. platform in the Gulf of Mexico when it crashed about seven minutes after takeoff.

A Texas woman whose son was killed in the helicopter crash also has sued 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.

A Sikorsky spokesman and a spokeswoman for Aeronautical Accessories’ parent company wouldn’t comment on Yelton’s lawsuit. A PHI official didn’t immediately return a call for comment.

Yelton’s suit says he suffered “severe, painful, permanently disabling and physically disfiguring injuries to his body and brain.”

His attorney, Paul Sterbcow, said he is being treated in San Antonio and “still has a long, long way to go” on the road to recovery.

“He’s a miracle, I’ll tell you that,” Sterbcow said.

Kelly Yelton was pregnant with the couple’s second child at the time of the crash, and she also has a child from a previous marriage, according to the suit. She and the children are also listed as plaintiffs.

Two of PHI’s pilots were killed in the crash: Thomas Ballenger of Eufaula, Ala., and Vyarl W. Martin of Hurst, Texas.

PHI identified the other victims as Andrew Moricio and Ezequiel Cantu of Morgan City, La.; Randy Tarpley of Jonesville, La.; Charles W. Nelson of Pensacola, Fla.; Allen Boudreaux Jr. of Ama, La.; and Jorey A. Rivero of Bridge City, La.

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