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Servicemen's Widows File Lawsuits in Deaths : Courts: Four women whose husbands were killed in helicopter crashes at Edwards Air Force Base seek damages.

January 12, 1993|JOHN CHANDLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The widows of four servicemen killed in a pair of helicopter crashes at Edwards Air Force Base in 1991 have filed wrongful death lawsuits against the helicopters' manufacturer and several parts suppliers seeking millions of dollars in damages, Texas court records showed Monday.

Three of the women filed one lawsuit and the fourth woman filed the other suit in recent months against Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. of Ft. Worth, Texas, which built the UH-1N helicopters, and three other companies.

Court documents filed on behalf of the three widows allege negligence and breach of warranty and seek at least $15 million apiece. The fourth widow said her separate case does not specify a set amount of damages.

The lawsuits stem from two separate Air Force crashes at Edwards involving the twin-engine utility helicopters. The first, on Jan. 14, 1991, killed two crewmen and injured two others. The second, on Oct. 10, 1991, killed three crewmen and slightly injured one.

Two Marine Corps helicopters of the same type also crashed in Southern California in 1990 and 1991, bringing to 11 the number of servicemen killed in four UH-1N crashes in California over a 15-month period.

Bell executives declined comment on the lawsuits Monday. But in court documents, the company has denied wrongdoing and claimed legal immunity as a government contractor. Despite the four crashes, the company has maintained the widely used UH-1N helicopters are safe to fly.

Air Force officials have blamed the Jan. 14 crash at Edwards on the failure of the helicopter engine's main drive shaft coupling, probably because of overheating due to misalignment. A recently released Air Force report on the Oct. 10 crash at Edwards did not state a cause.

A Bell spokesman confirmed Friday the company has been inspecting and repairing Air Force UH-1Ns in recent months. But the spokesman refused to say how many of the Air Force's nearly 100 UH-1Ns were affected. And Air Force officials said they could not elaborate Monday.

The lawsuit by the three widows was filed Oct. 9, 1992, in state district court in Ft. Worth, court records show. The suit by the fourth widow was filed there Dec. 21, she said.

The plaintiffs in the first case are Janine Burdett of Lancaster, (seeking at least $15 million), Lisa M. Anderson of Pennsylvania (seeking at least $15 million), and Janet Augustine of Michigan (seeking at least $20 million).

Air Force Capt. Jay D. Burdett, the pilot, and Staff Sgt. John R. Anderson, a photographer, died in the October crash at Edwards. Capt. John Augustine was the pilot in the January crash at Edwards.

Dia Lovell of Florida, the widow of flight engineer Sgt. Robert Lovell, the other fatality in the January crash, said she filed the second lawsuit. Neither of the lawsuits named the Air Force as a defendant.

The named defendants other than Bell are Connecticut-based United Technologies Corp. and its subsidiary Pratt & Whitney Canada Inc., the engine manufacturer; Illinois-based Syn-Tech Ltd., which provided a lubricant used in the helicopters, and California-based Pacific Scientific Co.

Pacific Scientific built a shoulder harness device known as an inertia reel used in Augustine's helicopter. The lawsuit in his case alleges the failure of the device worsened his injuries. Thus Augustine's widow claimed damages against the company, but Burdett and Anderson did not.

Times researcher Lianne Hart contributed to this story.

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