Posted on Dec 18, 2005
Helicopter crash settlement $38 million
Attorney for burn victim faults aircraft, not pilot
By GLENN PUIT
Officials look over the spot near Meadview, Ariz., where an Aug. 10, 2001, helicopter crash claimed the lives of six people and caused life-threatening injuries to Chana Daskal.
Photo by JERRY HENKEL.REVIEW-JOURNAL FILE PHOTO
Chana and David Daskal are shown in this undated family photo. David Daskal was killed in the Aug. 10, 2001, helicopter crash.
ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO
Paramedics wheel Chana Daskal into University Medical Center after the deadly helicopter crash.
Photo by K.M. Cannon.
A settlement reached this week on behalf of helicopter crash victim Chana Daskal totaled $38 million, making it one of the largest pretrial personal injury settlements for an individual in U.S. history.
Chana Daskal's Kansas City attorney, Gary Robb, also said Friday that federal investigators were wrong in blaming helicopter pilot Kevin Innocenti for the 2001 crash of the Papillon helicopter that killed six near Meadview, Ariz.
Robb said an investigation by his office showed the crash was attributable to two factors -- a malfunction in the helicopter's hydraulic system and a faulty fuel tank design that led to a devastating fire in the passenger cabin.
"He (Innocenti) was one of the most careful, experienced pilots Papillon had," Robb said. "He was a victim, just like everyone else."
Daskal and her husband, David, were two of seven people on board the AS350-B2 helicopter that crashed Aug. 10, 2001, during a tour of the Grand Canyon. Those killed in the crash were David Daskal, Shiya Lichtenstein, Avi and Barbara Wajsbaum, Aryeh Zvi Fastag and Innocenti.
Chana Daskal was burned over 80 percent of her body. She also lost both legs, and her back was broken.
Robb said Chana Daskal required at least 42 surgeries for facial reconstruction and skin grafts. She lost all her hair in the accident, and both her ears were burned off.
Despite the devastating injuries, Robb said, Daskal is continuing to make progress.
"She wakes up every morning, and she's happy to be alive," Robb said. "She lives to be a mother to her two children.
"She has such a remarkable attitude. Her chief surgeon said they've never seen a burn victim with the positive attitude she's had."
Daskal still requires 24-hour medical care and help with the care of her children, Gary and Avi, who were 4 years old and 6 months old respectively at the time of the crash more than four years ago.
Robb said the accident and the death of David Daskal have scarred the children as well.
"Avi still won't go near his mother," Robb said. "He thinks she is a monster and is scared of her."
Chana Daskal's medical bills have exceeded $11 million, and her future medical and life care needs will exceed $23 million, the attorney said.
A lawsuit was filed on behalf of Chana Daskal and the two children in 2003. The settlement was reached in the courtroom of District Judge Nancy Saitta this week.
Robb said the settlement was reached after negotiations with the helicopter's manufacturer, Eurocopter, and the operator, Papillon Airways Inc.
Robb wouldn't comment when asked exactly how the $38 million was being funded.
An attorney for Eurocopter, William Urga, could not be reached Friday. In an interview regarding the settlement earlier this week, Urga said he couldn't talk about the agreement because it was confidential. Robb maintains the settlement is not confidential.
An executive at Papillon also could not be reached Friday afternoon.
The National Transportation Board said in a 2004 report that Innocenti caused the crash. The board said Innocenti had engaged in dangerous flying practices on a prior flight.
Specifically, passengers on the prior flight said he pretended to be on the verge of flying a helicopter into a cliff, only to pull the helicopter above the top of the cliff at the last second.
They also said he frightened several passengers on the prior flight when he put the helicopter into a deep descent while recreating a scene from the movie "Thelma and Louise." In the movie, a car is shown driving off a cliff.
But Innocenti's co-workers and friends have expressed doubts about the premise that Innocenti would have flown so recklessly. They said he was an extremely safe pilot.
Chana Daskal said the same thing in an interview with federal investigators, according to reports. Daskal said she was immediately impressed with Innocenti, describing him as "cautious and stable."
Chana Daskal said Innocenti had kept a "nice distance" from the terrain before the crash.
"She stated that one passenger had asked him to perform stunts that he had seen another helicopter do," the report said. "The pilot said no because he had seen too many accidents and 'he wasn't ready to die.' "
Chana Daskal told investigators Innocenti did not issue a warning, call for help or move the controls unusually before the accident.
"It got quiet and fell from the sky," Chana Daskal said.
Robb said if the case had gone to trial, some of the nation's most respected experts on helicopters were expected to testify a hydraulic failure caused the crash. He said a malfunction in an actuator valve affected the main rotor of the chopper, causing it to plunge to the ground.
Robb said he believes the crash would have been survivable if not for the design of the fuel tank on the helicopter, which he said was located directly below where the passengers were sitting.
The attorney said Daskal wants to thank the Las Vegans who cared for her in the aftermath of the crash.
"When she was out there, the people of Las Vegas were supportive of her in every respect," Robb said. "She has a great fondness for them."