Suit blames Sikorsky, GE in air crash

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by Michael P. Mayko
Connecticut Post

July 16, 2005

BRIDGEPORT — The parents of a Navy veteran who survived Iraq only to die in a helicopter crash in Italy is suing United Technologies Corp., its Sikorsky Aircraft subsidiary and General Electric for negligence.

Attorney William P. Bloss of Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder filed the lawsuit, seeking at least $10 million in damages on behalf of the estate of Samuel P. Cox, a sailor from Missouri.

Cox's parents, Mary Jo and Joseph Cox, are the named plaintiffs. Joseph Cox is the news and sports producer for the Kansas City Star newspaper's Web site.

The younger Cox was among four crewmembers killed when a Sikorsky MH-53E Sea Dragon caught fire and crashed on land shortly after takeoff on July 16, 2003. The incident took place 10 miles southwest of the U.S. Navy's air station at Sigonella, Italy, on the island of Sicily.

The Sea Dragon was attached to the U.S. Navy's Helicopter Support Squadron 4. It was used primarily to shuttle cargo from ships to shore. The Sea Dragon, which is also used as a minesweeper, can carry up to 16 tons of cargo and 55 troopers.

In 1996, a similar helicopter, the CH-53E Super Stallion, crashed at Sikorsky's Stratford plant, killing four employees on board. That led to the Navy halting flights on all of Sikorsky E-series helicopters, including the Super Stallions and Sea Dragons.

Not long after that 1996 crash, the U.S. Defense Department contracted with the defendants to conduct a special study that would address the problems with the No. 2 engine in Sikorsky's E-series helicopters, according to the suit.

The resulting "MH-53E No. 2 Engine Compartment Backflow Survey" failed to address inflight engine failure or thermal incidents due to foreign object damage, the suit charges. It further claims the report failed to adequately instruct crews to immediately land or cut off fuel supply to the No. 2 engine whenever there was an incident.

The lawsuit alleges that since 1993 there were at least 16 in-flight fires or thermal incidents involving the No. 2 engine on Super Stallion helicopters. However, it claims the proper changes were not made, nor were crews instructed on emergency techniques.

"The company's policy is not to comment on pending litigation," said Kimberly Reidy, a spokesman for Sikorsky.

Deborah Case, a spokesman for Fairfield-based General Electric's jet engine division, said her company had "no knowledge" of the suit.

The lawsuit accuses the three companies of wrongful death based on negligence, product liability and breach of warranty.

The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton in New Haven.