Many Missouri and Illinois residents get nervous when they have to travel via commercial airplane for business or pleasure. Ironically, however, the commercial airline industry is extremely safe, with the last domestic American airline passenger crash occurring on Feb. 12, 2009. That crash killed 50 people, which is not an insignificant number by any means. However, this numbers pales when contrasted with the general aviation industry (involving private planes and helicopters), where aviation crashes killed 347 individuals in 2013 alone.
In fact, statistics indicate that approximately three general aviation crashes occur each and every day. These aviation accidents have resulted in the deaths of almost 45,000 people over the past 50 years. Interestingly, the government agency tasked with investigating aviation crashes, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), takes a no-holds-barred approach to investigating commercial airline crashes, but the same cannot be said for general aviation crashes. This seems especially ironic in light of the fact that private plane and helicopter crashes have claimed far more innocent lives — and caused many more significant burn injuries and other injuries to victims — than commercial airline accidents.
According to reports, the NTSB conducted “significant” investigations or visited the crash scenes of only 15% of general aviation accidents that place from 1972 to 2013, compared to significant investigations of 32% of airline accidents. This was the case even though many of those airline accidents involved only damage on tarmacs or people injured by turbulence, rather than the much more often fatal general aviation crashes.
Some claim that the NTSB often rushes to judgment in private plane and helicopter crashes, seemingly eager to blame accidents on pilot error despite the fact that manufacturer defects are more typically the root cause. This was the case for one man who survived the crash of his Piper Saratoga plane back in 2002. He says that the NTSB relentlessly grilled him about his fuel burn that day, trying to pin the crash on him. However, a third federal investigator backed up the pilot’s claim that the plane had stalled out at 1,100 feet in the air, finding that a failed engine part caused the crash. The pilot feels that, had he died, the NTSB would have simply blamed the crash on pilot error rather than looking into the actual cause of the accident.
One little girl suffered severe burn injuries to her face, arms, legs, torso and back in a 2005 general aviation crash which killed her mother, sister and the cousin who was piloting the plane. Again, the NTSB seemed more interested in blaming pilot error, claiming that her cousin simply lost control of the plane on takeoff. However, a personal injury and wrongful death lawsuit later revealed that a faulty carburetor led to the plane plunging to the ground before it burst into flames. Furthermore, the manufacturer of that carburetor later encouraged plane owners to take that part out of their planes due to the danger of engine failures.
In another ironic twist, it often takes civil lawsuits to uncover the true root causes of deadly general aviation crashes which have been investigated by the NTSB, only to declare pilot error to blame when this isn’t the case. One major newspaper conducted a thorough review of various internal company records and government documents, finding that a number of serious defects likely contributed to a number of helicopter and private plane crashes, including:
- Faulty helicopter fuel tanks prone to rupturing, igniting deadly fires that kill individuals who would otherwise have survived low-impact crashes;
- Ice-protection systems that not only fail to keep airplane wings de-iced, but also fail to bring the pilots’ attention to this fact;
- Leaky airplane exhaust systems resulting in catastrophic engine fires;
- Defective helicopter blades that either careen wildly or even separate from the mast entirely; and
- Known (since 1963) issues with plane carburetors that cause aircraft to experience flooded or starved engines, leading to crashes.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to catastrophic general-aviation crashes leading to severe burn injuries and death to many innocent victims in Missouri and Illinois. My St. Louis personal injury law firm can assist those victims and surviving families who wish to hold manufacturers or other negligent parties accountable by filing a civil lawsuit. Please consider calling us right away at 1-888-586-7041, toll-free, to discuss your case. You will pay us nothing until, and only if, we succeed at obtaining financial restitution for you either through settlement or litigation.
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