Is There No End to NTSB Laziness and Incompetence in Air Crash investigations? While Nazi’s were running amuck in Charlottesville Va. a Virginia State Police Helicopter manned by one of its most experienced pilots, Lt. Jay Cullen, who with Trooper Berke Bates had just chased down the driver of the car that crashed into counter demonstrators, was hovering over the Governor’s motorcade when suddenly the Bell 407 started spinning and tearing itself apart in mid-air. The damage was so severe that it crashed to the earth at over 6000 feet per minute trailing separated parts a number of which have never been found including a main rotor link the loss of which likely would explain the accident.

The NTSB dutifully asked for the “help” of the helicopter manufacturer and the engine manufacturer as well as the Va. State Police and while doing nothing for years refused to allow representatives of the victims to see the wreckage until a lawsuit was filed against it.

The original preliminary report seemed to focus on something called Vortex Ring State as the cause. Vortex Ring State is a phenomenon almost unheard of in the Bell Model 407 which causes the rotor blades to stall because the uprush of air through them from the bottom exceeds their ability to generate enough lift to fly out of the vortex. This is caused by a deliberate descent at high rates or hovering of the helicopter out of ground effect  and a lower descent rate which causes stalling of the rotor system at the hub where the blades attach. Vortices that develop can negate lift from the remainder of the blades. The recovery procedure is simple and quick and is a sudden turn out of the vortex or an autorotation which every pilot even with just a few hours in helicopters is taught. This helicopter was just a few thousand feet in a hover so such a descent would have never occurred voluntarily, and the data shows it did not and a Vortex Ring State cannot occur absent that descent. Moreover the rate of descent was so high almost immediately it was evidence of in-flight break-up not Vortex Ring State.

The NTSB stated that it believed that the Vortex Ring State was the culprit and that its review of training records didn’t reveal any training in that phenomenon or recovery from it by the pilot in years. As a pilot for fifty years, I can state categorically that training records do not record all elements of training especially one as bizarre and of no consequence in the Bell 407 as Vortex Ring State.

The NTSB never interviewed a single pilot who was trained by Lt. Jay Cullen because had it done so it would have learned that he regularly taught Vortex Ring State to his students and also the recovery technique and practiced it with them frequently.

Had the NTSB taken the minimal effort that it is required to do by statute to interview those who performed Lt. Cullen’s training it would have known that he was taught Vortex Ring State and recovery regularly and knew all about it.

Had the NTSB been even remotely interested in coming to the correct conclusion as to the cause of the accident, it would have contacted the families of the victims to obtain the names of the students and others who were aware of Lt. Cullen’s masterful skills at flying helicopters.

Had the NTSB not been in the pocket of the helicopter manufacturers of engines and airframes it would have consulted experts in helicopter design and performance and would have known that the flight path of the helicopter was completely inconsistent with that cause.

Indeed, had the NTSB simply spoken with Bell 407 operators, as The Wolk Law Firm has it would have learned that any suggestion that Vortex Ring State had anything to do with this accident was completely unfounded. Instead the NTSB did nothing!

The NTSB, fierce in its loyalty to industry, simply visited another insult to the families of these State Troopers who were doing their job to protect Americans, all Americans. Instead of getting to the bottom of why this accident happened and finding the broken parts, it instead obstructed the families for years from seeing the wreckage so their representatives and experts could find the broken parts and come to the correct conclusion supported by the evidence. It should be ashamed of its laziness and complete failure to comply with the investigative processes mandated by both the NTSB Accident Investigation School and the ICAO Manual of Aircraft Accident Investigation.

The Wolk Law Firm will get to the bottom of the cause of this accident so others who might be victims are protected, and once again embarrass the NTSB by showing in Court that the NTSB got it wrong again.

Arthur Alan Wolk

July 15, 2020

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Mountain flying is a dangerous undertaking in most general aviation aircraft. Recently an old Cessna 172 flying in the mountains crashed in a valley in Utah.

No one has looked at the wreckage to see if a mechanical failure brought the airplane down but examination of pictures of the wreckage reveal that it did not break apart in the air and crashed at the bottom of a deep valley.

Here are a few observations that may bear on the cause of this accident. The airplane was full of people and that made it heavy if not overweight. On its best day a Cessna 172, of that vintage built in the 70’s, fully loaded at sea level may climb at 800 feet/minute. Above sea level like in the mountains and in warm temperatures that climb rate can go to just a few hundred feet a minute.

Depending on the winds in the valleys and on the downslopes of the mountains, downdrafts in excess of 3000 feet per minute are common. Even eddies of unstable warm air rising and descending unevenly in the valleys can cause turbulence and downdrafts which far exceed the ability of a loaded C-172 to outclimb them. In fact the terrain itself will rise at a rate faster than this aircraft can outclimb it.

Some of the most experienced mountain flyers and even gurus in mountain flying have perished doing what…flying in the mountains!

This aircraft’s engine must be carefully examined to see if a loss of power contributed to this tragedy but flying small planes in the mountains have and will continue to produce this kind of accident because when trouble rears its ugly head there is no place to go.

The Wolk Law Firm has successfully handled countless mountain flying accidents.

Arthur Alan Wolk

July 7, 2020

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The seaplane midair accident over the lake in Cour d’Alene, Idaho  brings to tragic attention how dangerous sightseeing flights over scenic areas can be for the occupants of these aircraft.

As an Airline Transport Pilot also for single and multi-engine seaplanes, I can attest first hand that the concept of “see and avoid” which is how the FAA expects pilots to keep from hitting each other is especially ineffective when flying over an attractive natural wonder like the lake at Cour d’ Alene. There are so many in flight distractions from watching boats on the lake, to embracing the site of the surrounding hills and the brilliant natural foliage, it is difficult to see in the first place let alone avoid another aircraft competing for those distractions. 

The only way such a flight should ever be attempted is using the latest traffic avoidance technology such as TCAS or TCAD and communicating with air traffic control, in this case Spokane Approach Control, to obtain traffic avoidance assistance when able. Flying low over the lake, while exciting diminishes the effectiveness of this equipment and traffic advisories. Seaplanes because of their pontoons for flotation are just not as maneuverable as their land based counterparts. They are heavier and less aerodynamic so getting out of the way of an impending collision can be difficult.

The loss of so many people is beyond description as would be the loss of just one person.

Safe flying is no accident and perhaps some guidance from the FAA and careful training to use all available means to avoid a mid-air collision will be helpful in the future but for now sorting out the liability for the mishap and getting compensation for the victims is a matter of first importance. 

Arthur Alan Wolk

July 7th, 2020

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Here is a Kobe Bryant crash update. More information about the circumstances of the flight hint that weather was likely the major factor and not a mechanical malfunction. The communications  between air traffic control and the pilot were normal but this flight was flown under Special VFR rules. Those rules allow an aircraft or helicopter whose pilot has received that clearance to fly with only one mile visibility and clear of the clouds.

Every pilot including this one knows that a Special VFR clearance is a license to commit suicide. One mile visibility or even Three miles is virtually no visibility at all when moving at 160 knots or about 200 feet a second. Scud running under low ceilings is dangerous but coupled with hilly terrain stacks all the odds against completing the flight safely.

Ceilings of clouds measured at airports are expressed as AGL, above ground level. When flying in hilly terrain you have to subtract from the ceiling the height of the terrain so for example a ceiling of 1200 feet AGL at the airport is only 900 feet AGL over a 300 foot hill.

Moreover the Marine Layer coming off the ocean is unpredictable and there are more dense and less dense areas of poor visibility in just a few hundred feet horizontally especially in hilly terrain.

The pilot of this helicopter was instrument rated and could easily have filed an instrument flight plan and flown above the Marine Layer which is typically no more than a thousand feet thick. A helicopter can stop, hover or land virtually anywhere. There simply was no need to fly along so fast when the terrain would come up faster than a pilot could react.

It is unclear if this aircraft was equipped with Terrain Avoidance tools like TAWS but if so it would have warned of looming terrain but flying that fast and that low could defeat even the best warning if the system was being used. Synthetic vision if installed might have afforded a look through the weather to see the terrain that was struck in time to avoid it. Not all aircraft have that feature.

Now it’s easy to jump to conclusions after a crash because the pilot can’t defend himself so the weather clearly is a factor and when flying that low and that fast in that weather if a malfunction did occur there is just no time to react to it before hitting the ground especially with rising terrain.

Like all aircraft accidents there are multiple factors that will have to be investigated and considered, for example, when the last time had the pilot flew actual IFR (Bad Weather) in a helicopter, what was his IFR currency, what if any mechanical squawks existed on dispatch.

This helicopter had extensive avionics modernization completed recently and that must be examined to see what if any additional navigation capabilities it gave the pilot and if he knew how to use it.

But this very challenging flight was being flown with one pilot. Even though that was technically legal, two pilots should have been in the front because the work load was clearly too high for this flight to be safely completed.

This accident is just terrible for all victims and their families. We grieve with them.

Arthur Alan Wolk

January 27th, 2020

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The Wolk Law Firm extends its condolences to the family of basketball great Kobe Bryant and at least one of his children who passed away today in the crash of his Sikorsky S-76 helicopter. The crash occurred in low ceilings and visibility in a hilly area near Calabasas, California.

No flight plan had been filed at least as revealed by currently available information. No flight plan was required for that flight though the weather was challenging with low ceilings and visibility.

Kobe was a Philadelphia sport’s laureate and a graduate of Lower Merion High School in a Philly suburb where Arthur Wolk resides. What is little known is that Kobe spoke a number of languages, was a prolific writer and a real intellectual.

The helicopter was nearly thirty years old and was used frequently between the Camarillo airport and the John Wayne, Orange County Airport near where his daughter was regularly involved in basketball practice.

It is unknown just what terrain avoidance equipment was on board nor what the age or condition of the engines and rotor system were. Investigation may reveal a mechanical problem that caused or contributed to the crash. Communications between the pilot and air traffic control should reveal if there was a reported mechanical problem that preceded the crash.

Helicopters are permitted to fly well below the altitudes that fixed wing aircraft fly and often fly beneath the clouds at low level. Hopefully the pilot made use of air traffic control services during the short flight.

Examination of the wreckage should quickly reveal if there was a mechanical cause but regardless, the country has lost an icon that will be sorely missed along with the others who perished with him.

It’s a really sad day today for the Bryant family and for those who grew up admiring Kobe’s great achievements.

Arthur Alan Wolk

January 26th 2020

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Don’t quickly accuse the pilot in the Louisiana Cheyenne crash, it was likely not his fault. The Piper Cheyenne II is a very capable airplane when everything is working. It has a good safety record but it’s been out of production forever so it is old. The engines are normally pretty reliable Pratt and Whitney Canada PT-6’s though there are some very troubling flaws especially with the fuel controls.

This unspeakable tragedy that killed so many people is explainable if an experienced aviation litigator examines the crash and gets the facts to develop substance behind the three watchwords of airplane crash investigation. The Man, Machine and the Environment.

The Man is the pilot who apparently had been flying this very airplane for many years. His recent flight experience is unknown but assuming he was current, certainly there should have been nothing about him that figured into the accident.

The Machine is an old Cheyenne and its maintenance history is unknown right now. A very careful examination of that history is vital to understanding what may have impacted the Man’s ability to fly that day.

The Environment was bad, low ceilings and poor visibilities but not beyond the capabilities of an experienced and qualified Man to fly this airplane that day. The problem with low ceilings and visibilities is that when things go wrong, especially on takeoff, it’s difficult or impossible to see where you need to crash land if you have any hope of saving yourself and your passengers.

The propellers will tell some of the story. Badly curled blades indicate engine power. Straight or almost straight blades mean no engine power likely due to an engine failure. Now a PT-6 engine is a free turbine which means there is no physical connection between the propellers and the power section thus the blades are not always easy to read because even when the engine quits they still spin, albeit slower.

Absent a mechanical failure this accident has no explanation. Any good instrument pilot should have been able to make that takeoff without difficulty. But from witness descriptions, the airplane couldn’t climb and was gradually decreasing in altitude until it ran out of airspace and crashed and burned.

That usually means powerplant failure or instrument failure and in those weather conditions each can have fatal results.

Everyone (meaning the NTSB and FAA who will have the help of the manufacturers of the airplane and engine) will rush to blame the pilot but until the facts are known that may be premature.

Hopefully The Wolk Law Firm will be contacted before critical items of evidence are “lost”.

We figure out the Why better than anyone else because we are pilots, we are crash investigators and we are relentless in the search for the cause.

Arthur Alan Wolk

New Year’s Day 2020.

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Why would anyone fly a helicopter into the mountains in bad weather?Seven people dead, three families shattered and another sight-seeing helicopter crash in Hawaii. Now it is understandable that vacationers want to get up close and personal with the majestic features of the Hawaii landscape, it’s beautiful.

Some sight-seeing helicopter operators have a great track record given that they fly thousands of flights a year and most of the time deliver their passengers back safely full of the thrills that such rides afford.

But mountain flying is wicked business in any aircraft. The winds shift rapidly and some downdrafts exceed the capability of a helicopter or airplane to fly out of them.

Flights in Hawaii have another hazard and that is the mist that forms adjacent to and in the rain forests that the mountains provide terrain to protect. Flying in or near that is just blind flying in an area that is difficult on a good day.

This particular day however was a perfect storm because of a storm located over the island. It was accompanied by rain showers, turbulence and uncertain visibility and ceilings.

Now it is certainly possible that a mechanical failure brought down this helicopter and when the NTSB finishes and blames the pilot the real investigative work will begin by the litigators who know what makes helicopters crash.

But as one of those litigators who will no doubt be hired by one of these devastated families and a pilot for decades and many thousands of hours, I have a question.

What operator if safety minded would dispatch a helicopter into these conditions? The weather was bad. If a mechanical failure occurs, there is little or no time for the pilot to react. Often they fly low over hostile terrain and there is no place to make an emergency landing. So why would anyone stack the odds against a safe flight?

It is simply incomprehensible to me that with so many risks attendant to this type of activity in this kind of foreboding terrain and weather any flights were dispatched that day.

Having flown airshows for twelve years, I remember the greatest airshow performer ever, Bob Hoover, saying to me, “Arthur, the crowd doesn’t know whether you are flying 200 feet above the ground or 400 feet. So play it safe make your hard deck 400 feet.”

A sight-seeing flight is only  a success when the helicopter returns safely. Maybe the principle of Bob Hoover’s admonition needs to be applied to this kind of activity. The ride is no less exciting when it’s close but not too close, low but not too low and by all means only in good weather.

This is indeed a sad day for everyone concerned and especially the families who lost their loved ones.

The Wolk Law Firm is always here to help.

Arthur Alan Wolk – 12/29/19

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The Wolk Law Firm has been hired as plaintiff’s counsel by the family of a passenger in the crash of Ethiopian Flight 302 and is under consideration by many others. The United Nation’s employee left a disabled husband and young child.

What Boeing ought to do since according to its President it “owns this” is to engage the services of a mediator to settle all the cases promptly. Instead it will no doubt choose the “litigation to death” route while publicly claiming its sympathy for the families of the deceased.

No worries, The Wolk Law Firm has been trial counsel in many airline crashes before and this one will be easier than all the others.

Arthur Alan Wolk, Esq.

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Boeing 737 software upgrade flight tests are bogus. The FAA and Boeing are running around trying to put the world-wide firestorm about the Boeing 737 Max certification and the two unnecessary crashes of the Max models overseas killing 346 people.

Boeing claims to have developed a software fix that will solve the Max’ uncontrollable pitch down tendencies from a MCAS system that was necessitated due to its uncontrollable and uncertifiable pitch up tendencies. The only problem is that the test airplane for this miracle solution is a Boeing 737 Max 8 at all but a 737-7 which is not equipped with the 737 Max 8’s Leap engines which size and more forward position is the claimed reason for the pitch up tendencies in the first place.

So Boeing and the FAA Are testing a fix on an airplane that doesn’t have the problem rather than one of those Max 8’s that have been built and are not delivered.

No fools, these pilots, they are doing these tests at an altitude three times higher than that when the troubles for the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines began.

So same old same old. The FAA is incompetent, Boeing is still leading it around by the nose and the testing that should be done, on a real Max 8 hasn’t happened.

Arthur Alan Wolk, Esq.

April 3, 2019

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It seems incomprehensible that American Airlines and Southwest Airlines can refuse to ground their B-737 Max 8’s while the rest of the world grounds theirs in the face of two accidents that have claimed the lives of nearly 350 people.

There would not be enough money in the world to pay the punitive damages claims that either airline would have to pay in the event one of their Max 8’s dived into the ground because the MCAS failed again.

Today Boeing announced a software fix that reduced the control authority of the MCAS so the elevators would still be able to allow the crew to pull out of a dive induced by runaway stabilizer trim and added a comparator so if either Angle of Attack sensor disagreed, the system wouldn’t work. This is a good first step but the airplane should never have been certified by the FAA without those features in place. It has a single point failure, one sensor operated the system at a time, and this emergency system alone created a worse emergency.

Do American and Southwest’s Max 8’s already have the software or some version of it that the International carriers do not have? If so the culpability of Boeing would be worse, if that’s possible, but the FAA would also have to be complicit which would explain why it rushed to defend Boeing and the decision of American and Southwest not to ground their fleets. If American and Southwest have a revised MCAS and they remain silent about it, they are morally corrupt for remaining silent.

There is no evidence that the U.S. carriers’ aircraft are any different than those sold overseas but something is driving this arrogance in the face of certain disaster.

Arthur Alan Wolk

3/12/19

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