A judge in Las Vegas has approved a settlement that will see Airbus Helicopters and sightseeing tour operator Papillon Airways pay a combined $100 million to the family of a victim in a 2018 fatal crash in the Grand Canyon – the lion’s share of which will be paid by the airframer.

The settlement, agreed before a Clark County district judge on 5 January, stipulates that Airbus Helicopters pay $75.4 million and Papillon $25.4 million. It goes to the parents of Jonathan Udall, a 31-year-old British tourist who was in the accident aircraft on 10 February 2018, and suffered severe burns on 90% of his body when the H130 B4 he was travelling in crashed. 

In addition to Udall, four other passengers died in the accident. One passenger and the pilot survived.


Source: Wikimedia Commons

Airbus Helicopters has agreed to pay $75.4 million to the victim of a 2018 crash involving an H130 B4 similar to that pictured

The lawsuit claimed that the helicopter’s fuel tank was defective and ruptured on contact, drenching the passengers with fuel which immediately ignited to burn them, the plaintiff’s lawyer says.

“Jonathan Udall suffered the most agonising death imaginable,” Gary Robb, of the Robb & Robb law firm, who represented the Udall family, said on 9 January. “He was burned alive and then stranded for over seven hours in a ravine at the Grand Canyon.” Udall died in hospital 12 days later.

Airbus Helicopters offers no comment about the settlement.

Papillion confirmed the agreement, saying on 10 January: ”The National Transportation Safety Board’s final report said tailwinds, potential downdrafts and turbulence were the probable cause [of the crash]. The investigation found no evidence of mechanical problems with the helicopter and our pilot was not found to be at fault due to the extreme weather conditions.”

The lawsuit had accused Airbus Helicopters of failing to equip the aircraft with a crash-resistant fuel system (CRFS), leading its fuel tank to burst into flames on low impact contact with the canyon.

“Mr Udall would have survived without any injury if the helicopter been properly equipped with a crash-resistant fuel system,” Robb adds, saying the aircraft had a “a fire bomb for a fuel tank”.

CRFSs have been required by US federal law in all newly manufactured helicopters since 1994, but the lawsuit claimed that Airbus Helicopters took advantage of a regulatory loophole to avoid the safety requirement. The accident aircraft was manufactured in 2010.

Papillon adds that the company installed crash resistant fuel cells in its airframes in the months following the accident.

According to legal research service VerdictSearch, the $100 million settlement is the ”highest pretrial settlement amount in its database for a single wrongful death case”. 

The case had been scheduled to go to trial on 6 February and last six weeks.