A transcript between two pilots flying a helicopter that crashed in the Bahamas last summer, killing billionaire businessman Chris Cline and six others, indicates the aircraft had mechanical problems and was unsafe to fly.
The expletive-riddled cockpit transcript, released last week by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), includes a discussion between the helicopter’s pilot and co-pilot about the condition of the aircraft, a 15-passenger Agusta SpA AW139.
The pilot tells the co-pilot at least three times that he had been “trying to get him to sell this # thing,” referring to the helicopter and presumably its owner, Mr. Cline. The # sign indicates an expletive. The pilot also called the aircraft a “maintenance whore.”
“I haven’t flown this thing in over a month until today,” the pilot says.
“Bloody #” the co-pilot replies.
“It’s been in the # shop.”
“Has it? What’s been wrong with it?
“Every # thing. I wish we’d sell this # thing. I wish we’d go get us something decent – fly something that we don’t have to go to school for every # week.”
The helicopter arrived at Mr. Cline’s private island, Big Grand Cay, in the early morning hours of July 4 to pick up Mr. Cline’s daughter Kameron Cline, 22, and her best friend Brittney Searson, 21, who had become ill. The helicopter was to take them to Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport, where the young women were to be taken by ambulance to a hospital.
Moments after takeoff shortly before 2 a.m. on July 5, the helicopter sounded warnings that indicated it was diving. “There was a fatal accident in the UK and this is exactly what happened there,” the pilot, David Jude, said as the helicopter repeatedly sounded “warning terrain” in an electronic voice.
According to the NTSB, witnesses said the helicopter appeared to lift off normally. It turned right and climbed to an elevation of about 300 feet before accelerating with its nose down over the west end of the island.
One of several witnesses told NTSB investigators he noticed the helicopter’s “lights moving funny, the lights went out, and he heard an impact,” according to NTSB documents.
The pilot repeatedly said, “give us a heading” as the helicopter sounded terrain warnings. All cockpit communications ceased at 1:53 a.m.
The following morning, Mr. Cline’s son Hogan realized something was wrong when he found the helicopter never made it to Palm Beach International Airport, where it was stationed. Mr. Jude was supposed to fly Hogan to the family’s island later that day. He started contacting the U.S. Coast Guard, area hospitals, and others who he thought may have heard from his father.
Learning that the helicopter failed to reach its destination, a small search party was organized on the island. The party found the wrecked helicopter in the water in the early afternoon. All the occupants of the helicopter were still strapped in their seats.
The NTSB continues to investigate the crash. It could take several more months before investigators make a final determination of the crash cause and issue their final report.
Beasley Allen lawyer Mike Andrews focuses much of his practice on aviation litigation. Mike has represented people seriously injured in a variety of aviation crashes, and the families of those killed in both civilian and military airplane crashes and helicopter crashes. He currently represents families of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 victims involving the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.