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

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

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.

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

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.

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

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

Boeing has announced and the FAA has agreed to software changes to the MCAS system, the anti-stall system suspected in causing 300 deaths in the last 4 months on the Boeing 737 Max 8.

The Boeing announcement says the enhancements include updates to “the MCAS flight control law, pilot displays, operation manuals and crew training. The enhanced flight control law incorporates angle of attack (AOA) inputs, limits stabilizer trim commands in response to an erroneous angle of attack reading and provides a limit to the stabilizer command in order to retain elevator authority.”

Yet just yesterday the FAA issued a certification of continued airworthiness for the 737 Max 8 claiming to the world that in spite of the two recent accidents, the airplane is just fine. That’s funny, an Airworthiness Directive addresses safety of flight issues and one is already issued on an emergency basis and the software enhancements are included in the second to be issued in April. Other changes are likely to be mandated as well.

So the B-737 Max 8 is so safe that over 300 people are dead and it needs to be changed to keep flying yet the FAA hasn’t grounded it until the “enhancements” are introduced.

Other U.S. carriers who operate the Max refuse to take it out of service. What will the FAA say when another one goes down, this time in the U.S., “Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims’ families.”?

This is politics as usual and the FAA is covering up its embarrassment for having certified an airplane with an emergency system that causes its own emergency. The 737 Max 8 will one day be fixed just like the 737 rudder was after six accidents years ago, but right now until it’s fixed it should remain on the ground.

The FAA is useless!

Arthur Alan Wolk

3/12/19

Two crashes within a few short months of each other, hundreds dead, experienced crews aboard each and a known absent control redundancy? This airplane needs another look by embarrassed regulators.

The Boeing 737 MAX is a further lengthened version of the most popular airliner ever conceived, the 737. But the differences in the MAX are more than just size. The MAX is so stretched that a control intervention system, The Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, was included that figured into the crash of the LIONAIR JT 610 crash in Indonesia. In that crash, an angle of attack sensor malfunction was implicated as well as a failure by Boeing to provide adequate differences training materials (documents to advise flight crews how operating the MAX differs from other 737s).

While LIONAIR maintenance and pilot error was charged by Boeing, as it always does after an accident, it turns out that normal emergency techniques for this control system malfunction do not work.

It appears now that absent proof that foul play or a different mechanical malfunction brought this airplane down, this Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX accident must be a trigger for a Special Airworthiness Review to see if the regulations for certification were not given short shrift.

For example, the Federal Aviation Regulations require control system redundancy so no single failure can cause a crash. In the new MAX design, there are two angle of attack sensors but only one supplies the needed critical information to the flight control computer at any one time. That may be a violation of the redundancy requirement and both systems operating properly with a comparator of the health of the two should have been required.

But there appears to be an ugly side to this aircraft. The Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System in the MAX pitches the nose down when the a system senses an angle of attack higher than required for normal flight or one that would result in an aerodynamic stall. Since the system is a required control system for dispatch, by making only one angle of attack sensor required and indeed used at a time, Boeing hedged on the likely failure of two AOA’s at the same time and got it certified.

Now the FAA, the agency that certified the aircraft will fall all over itself to deny that the MAX doesn’t meet the regulations but it said the same thing when three B-737s crashed from a rudder control problem that the FAA denied existed. More than 600 people lost their lives while the FAA defended its actions and stood in Boeing’s shadow until the NTSB reluctantly and due in part to the work of Arthur Alan Wolk required a reliably redundant rudder control system.

Until the cause of this latest crash is determined, the MAX should be grounded and a bottom up review made to see how this new band aid system fails, how its failure can be annunciated to the flight crew and how it can be stopped once it runs away.

It is no coincidence that both aircraft crews lost control close to the ground and unless something else is quickly identified as the cause, the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System must be a suspect. Something about the MAX’s design required this unheard of mechanical intervention in the normal control of the Boeing 737, literally taking control away from the crew so the airplane doesn’t crash. The fact that it is known that this supposedly lifesaving system may itself cause a crash makes a careful re-examination of it appropriate before 600 people are lost instead of the more than 300 dead already.

Arthur Alan Wolk 3/10/2019

No lawyer in the world has as much experience with the Boeing G 737 Control System malfunctions as Arthur Alan Wolk of THE WOLK LAW FIRM. The crash of Lion Air Flight JT 610 is beyond a tragedy for the 189 souls aboard. It is a disgrace.

The Boeing 737 MAX is equipped with a flight control system designed to prevent the crew from
accidentally stalling the airplane. It’s called the “Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System” In
this instance stall means aerodynamic stall or the airplane quits flying not engine failure. The incidence of airliner crews accidentally stalling their airplanes is almost non-existent except when in the unlikely
event the flight control system malfunctions and misleads the flight deck crew into mis-handling the emergency. This occurred over the Atlantic during an Air France Flight to Paris from Buenos Aires some
years ago. All aboard were killed so every aircraft manufacturer was on notice that the systems were getting too complex and confusing even for experienced flight crews to master.

Boeing airplanes have traditionally avoided the use of computer interventions which take control of the
aircraft away from the flight deck crew and the Boeing 737 MAX is the first time Boeing has departed
from that control system design philosophy in the Boeing 737 type. The MAX system literally uses two
Angle of Attack sensors which feeds information to a horizontal stabilizer trim system that will force the nose of the aircraft down if the angle of attack (the angle between a line down the middle of the
fuselage and the air it is flying through) gets too steep. This system inexplicably uses only one of the two angle of attack sensors so it has a built in single point failure in the event that the one it is using fails.
The computer senses that at that angle even if incorrectly measured due to a malfunctioning angle of attack sensor, the airplane is approaching or will approach stall and trims the stabilizer nose down to prevent the aircraft from stalling. The problem is that the system won’t allow the crew to disable it in a timely way if at all and it will take control away from the crew all the way into the ground or ocean. In fact since the system only works when the airplane is in manual flaps up condition, lowering the flaps
would have disabled it but nobody in the cockpit knew that because Boeing didn’t tell them.

In the instance of the Boeing 737 MAX, there was nothing in the FAA Approved Flight manual to advise
the crew of this anomaly or how to deal with it and nothing in the differences training (the training of flight deck crews in one type of B-737 to know what’s new or different about the MAX) to cover it.
Therefore the Lion Air crew was stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place trying to figure out what was wrong and what to do about it.

There is no question that Boeing knew about the issue and the potential failure mode because it designed and built the system. It was obligated to create a Failure Modes and Effects Analysis so the various potential failures could be addressed. It also knew it had a responsibility under the Federal
Aviation Regulations to design the system so it could be flown by pilots of ordinary piloting skills, without the use of excessive strength and the system must be able to be overridden by the crew using
ordinary strength and easily disabled it if it malfunctions.

Boeing was required to supply the FAA with a Flight Manual, that only the FAA can approve, which gives the crew all the necessary information to deal with emergencies and abnormal conditions and under no circumstances is one emergency allowed to create an even wors emergency. Clearly the FAA didn’t read it, didn’t understand it, didn’t flight test it and just rubber stamped it.

This Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System was malfunctioning on four flights before the
accident flight. The flight deck crews reported the malfunctions and Lion Air maintenance people claiming they used the manuals that Boeing supplied, troubleshot the squawk and claim they fixed the system as instructed. The problem is that this malfunction could not be effectively troubleshot on the ground as the angle of attack sensors typically fail in the air. That’s why each succeeding flight deck crew had the problem again. In addition the system cannot be effectively troubleshot by the methods the maintenance personnel were given in continuing airworthiness manuals that Boeing was required under the Federal Aviation Regulations to provide with all means necessary to maintain the aircraft safe for flight.

Many other types of jet aircraft have a single switch that will allow the crew to disconnect the entire
trim system. But because this was a stall protection system, often the means to disable it is more complicated so the protection is not lost. Clearly the crew of Lion Air JT610 was unable to disconnect or disable the system and the nose was pitched down in ever increasing amounts such that even tugging as hard as they could the crew could not overcome the dive to eventual oblivion. The very fact that the crew could not disable or override the system makes the system itself a violation of the same Federal
Aviation Regulations.

Arthur Alan Wolk litigated the Boeing 737 rudder malfunction accidents, United 525 in Colorado Springs,
Co. and USAIR 427 in Aliquippa Pa., for nine years successfully settling the cases of the many passengers he represented after proving, in spite of Boeing’s denials, that the rudder control system was flawed. It
has since been redesigned. Wolk proved the rudder control system defective not only to the NTSB which was mesmerized for years by Boeing’s denials but to Boeing and its insurers as well.

The rudder in the Boeing 737 also had a single point failure and there was no mention of a procedure to counter it in the FAA approved Flight Manual. The regulators don’t regulate and the manufacturers do not comply with the regulatory requirements.

No one is more qualified to litigate Lion Air JT 610 than Arthur Alan Wolk and The Wolk Law Firm.


Arthur Alan Wolk can be reached at the office 215-545-4220 or on his cell 610-733-4220.