Two new lawsuits claiming negligence have been filed by family members of victims of a deadly 2016 Sevier County sightseeing helicopter crash.
Together, the suits seek $250 million in damages from those connected to the aircraft’s operation.
The Bell 206L helicopter, run by Smoky Mountain Helicopters, crashed just after 4 p.m. on April 4, 2016. All five people on board were killed. The NTSB investigation is ongoing.
The first suit was filed by Keith Morvant, husband to Johna Morvant, and Lynne Frederick, Johna’s mother. Johna and her two children, Parker and Peyton Rasmussen, were killed when the aircraft crashed on April 4, 2016. Autopsy reports previously showed Johna died of blunt force trauma, while Parker and Peyton were killed by the ensuing post-crash fire.
The suit names M-Helicopters of Tennessee, operator Smoky Mountain Helicopters, maintenance company Vertiflite Air Services, as well as chopper owner Rock Riggs, Jon Riggs, and David Noble. It also includes pilot Jason Dahl, and his estate.
Dahl, 49, was also killed in the crash.
The lawsuit alleges seven counts of negligence, one against each of the named defendants, and a final court of “Gross Negligence against All Defendants.”
“The Defendants willfully and wantonly disregarded Johna’s safety and rights,” the complaint reads.
The Morvants request a jury trial, and seek compensatory damages of $10 million, and punitive damages of $15 million, according to the documents.
The second lawsuit was filed by Scott Rasmussen, father to Parker and Peyton, and Delavae Carlson, mother to Michael Mastalez. It names Smoky Mountain Helicopters, M-Helicopters of Tennessee, and the Riggs family. It does not name pilot Jason Dahl or his estate.
“The crash was survivable, but the helicopter burst into flames and the fire caused the death of all occupants on board, including Plaintiffs’ decedents Peyton Nicole Rasmussen, Parker Stone Rasmussen and Michael Glenn Mastalez,” the complaint states.
A medical examiner determined Johna died of blunt force trauma.
The suit includes counts of negligence and strict liability against each of the following: Smoky Mountain Helicopters, M-Helicopters, and Bobby Riggs. Rock and Hillda Riggs are also accused of negligence. Finally, the suit includes a count of ‘Constitutional Challenge.’
The families ask for a jury trial, and are seeking $25 million per death in compensatory damages, and $50 million per death in punitive damages.
This brings the total lawsuits filed in connection to the April 2016 crash to three – the first was filed against Bobby Riggs in Florida back in January.
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The National Transportation Safety Board traveled to the scene of this accident.
Additional Participating Entities:
Federal Aviation Administration AVP-100; Fort Worth, Texas
Transportation Safety Board Canada - Accredited Representative; Gatineau, QC
Bell Helicopter; Fort Worth, Texas
Rolls-Royce; Indianapolis, Indiana
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office: Nashville, Tennessee
National Transportation Safety Board - Aviation Accident Preliminary Report: https://app.ntsb.gov/pdf
NTSB Identification: ERA16FA144
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Monday, April 04, 2016 in Pigeon Forge, TN
Aircraft: BELL 206, registration: N16760
Injuries: 5 Fatal.
This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.
On April 4, 2016, about 1610 eastern daylight time, a Bell 206L, N16760, was destroyed when it impacted terrain while maneuvering in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The helicopter was operated by Great Smoky Mountain Helicopters, Inc., doing business as, Smoky Mountain Helicopters. The commercial pilot and four passengers were fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan had been filed for the flight that departed Sixty Six Heliport (6TN3), Sevierville, Tennessee. The local air tour flight was conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.
According to the operator, the helicopter had been purchased in 1986 for air tour/sight-seeing purposes. At the time of the accident, the operator owned two helicopters, a Bell 206B that was based in Cherokee, North Carolina, and the accident helicopter, which was based at 6TN3.
A company pilot reported that he flew the helicopter an estimated 10 flights on the morning of the accident, and before the accident pilot began flying sometime between 1300 and 1400. The accident pilot performed 4 flights in the helicopter and then shut it down while waiting for additional customers. The accident pilot subsequently restarted the helicopter, and completed a 4 minute flight before departing on the accident flight, which was scheduled to last between 7 and 8 minutes. He further stated that a check of the fuel level prior to departure revealed it was "just below the 6-inch line," which he estimated corresponded to about 300 pounds of fuel on board.
Another helicopter tour company pilot operating in the area about the time of the accident reported that he did not hear any distress calls. He further stated that he recalled the accident pilot made a normal landmark position report over "wonderworks."
A witness who lived near the accident site reported that he was outside when he observed the helicopter flying low in a descent, and it "didn't sound right." He further described the sound as if "the engine was wound tight" and it "lost the rotor sound." He then heard the engine go silent, "as if the pilot cut the power," which was followed by sounds associated with impact. Another witness reported hearing the impact and observed the accident site engulfed in fire.
The helicopter initially impacted trees near the top of a ridge that was about 1,100 feet mean sea level (msl). The helicopter came to rest in a wooded area near the bottom of the ridge, on its left side, on a heading of about 340 degrees magnetic. Two large, freshly broken trees were located about 100 feet south of the main wreckage, which was mostly consumed by a postcrash fire. In addition, the entire area surrounding the main wreckage was charred.
All major structural components of the helicopter were located at the accident site. One of the two main rotor blades was separated, and located about 20 feet northwest of the main wreckage. The leading edges of both main rotor blades did not exhibit significant impact damage. Manual rotation of the main rotor blade that remained attached to the main rotor hub resulted in rotation of the main rotor mast, the engine-to-transmission drive shaft, the engine's No. 4 turbine wheel, the tail rotor drive output, and confirmed free-wheel functionality. The tail rotor drive shaft was fractured in multiple locations. The flexible couplings between the drive shaft flanges were intact and did not display evidence of fractures or deformation consistent with power at impact. The tail rotor gearbox was separated from the tail boom and located about 30 feet southeast of the main wreckage. Manual rotation of the tail rotor blades resulted in rotation of the gearbox input. The splines at the tail rotor gearbox did not exhibit evidence of fractures or smearing. All three flight control servo control linkages were fractured at multiple locations; however, the linkages remained attached to their respective input and output ends. There was no evidence of damage to the engine's first stage compressor section, or fourth stage turbine wheel.
The engine and airframe were recovered from the accident site and retained for further examination.
Initial review of maintenance records revealed that at the time of the accident, the helicopter had been operated for about 40 hours since its most recent 100 hour and annual inspections, which were performed on March 4, 2016. In addition, the helicopter had been operated for about 22,560 total hours.
The pilot reported 550 hours of total flight experience on his most recent application for a Federal Aviation Administration second-class medical certificate, which was issued on April 21, 2015. According to an initial review of the pilot's logbook, as of March 25, 2016, he had logged about 1,300 hours of total flight experience, which included about 870 hours in Bell 206 series helicopters.
A weather observation taken at airport located about 3 miles northeast of the accident site, about the time of the accident, reported: winds from 220 degrees, at 10 knots, 10 statute miles visibility, clear skies, temperature 24 degrees Celsius (C), dew point 2 degrees C, and an altimeter setting of 29.93 inches of mercury.