Faulty Helicopter Part Caused the Deaths of Four Marines, New Lawsuit Claims

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The Marines killed in a CH-53E Super Stallion crash in Southern California include, clockwise from top left, Gunnery Sgt. Derik R. Holley, First Lt. Samuel D. Phillips, Capt. Samuel A. Schultz, and Lance Cpl. Taylor J. Conrad. (U.S. Marine Corps photos)
The Marines killed in a CH-53E Super Stallion crash in Southern California include, clockwise from top left, Gunnery Sgt. Derik R. Holley, First Lt. Samuel D. Phillips, Capt. Samuel A. Schultz, and Lance Cpl. Taylor J. Conrad. (U.S. Marine Corps photos)

The families of four U.S. Marines who died in a 2018 CH-53E Super Stallion heavy-lift helicopter accident have filed a lawsuit March 31 alleging that two companies were responsible for the faulty aircraft component that caused the fatal crash.

The Marines killed in the April 3, 2018, crash were Capt. Samuel A. Schultz; 1st Lt. Samuel D. Philips; Gunnery Sgt. Richard D. Holley; and Lance Cpl. Taylor J. Conrad. All were assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 465 out of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California.

The huge helicopter took off from the Strategic Expeditionary Landing Field at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, California, to conduct squadron training, consisting of aircraft landings in "unimproved zones," before it crashed and "burst into flames" near the U.S.-Mexico border just outside of El Centro, according to the lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania State Court.

The lawsuit against Kampi Components Co. Inc. of Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania, and Diamond Rubber Products Co. of Birmingham, Alabama, alleges that the companies were responsible for manufacturing and supplying a defective valve part that triggered the tragic accident.

Related: Marine Corps Identifies Four Killed in Super Stallion Crash

The failed component, known as a bypass valve button, was made from ethylene propylene di monomer (EPDM), a rubber material that is incompatible with hydraulic fluid, the lawsuit alleges.

"The failure of this component part caused what is known as a 'hydraulic lock' condition, resulting in a loss of flight control of the subject helicopter," the lawsuit states. "When this condition occurs, the pilots can do nothing to bring the subject helicopter back under control and are blameless in this crash."

Post-crash investigation and analysis further revealed that, following the discovery of the non-conforming EPDM part, "all batches of the non-conforming buttons were analyzed in an attempt to find the non-compliant supplier and/or manufacturer and through those efforts the source of the non-compliant 'button' was identified as being sold and supplied by Defendant KAMPI and manufactured of Defendant DIAMOND," the lawsuit alleges, referring to Kampi Components and Diamond Rubber Products.

Attorney David Casey Jr., who is representing the families in the lawsuit, said in a recent news release, "There was nothing the pilots could have done to prevent this deadly accident."

Military.com reached out to Diamond Rubber Products and Kampi Components but did not receive a response by press time.

As a result of the post-crash investigation, the Marine Corps sent out a fleetwide message ordering the removal of the faulty part from all affected helicopters, according to the lawsuit.

Laboratory testing and analysis also confirmed that the presence of the non-compliant EPDM button material "would have and should have resulted in a failed First Article and Conformance Inspection verification testing," the lawsuit states.

"Based upon the post-crash analysis and investigation, the Defendants, jointly and severally, failed to warn the government about possible dangers or defects in the non-conforming bypass valve button, which defects were either known or should have been known by the Defendants, but not the government," according to the lawsuit.

Military.com reached out to the Marine Corps for further explanation on why the faulty part would not have shown up during aircraft testing or inspections but did not receive a response by press time.

The lawsuit is seeking compensatory damages for the loss of loved ones, including "loss of past earnings, loss of future earnings ... loss of enjoyment of life, loss of life's pleasures ... as well as for funeral and interment expenses, estate expenses and such other damages as are or may be provided for by applicable law," according to the court document.

The suit alleges product liability, negligence and breach of warranties, as well as fraud, intentional misrepresentation and willful and wanton conduct which could result in compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $800,000, according to the court document.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

Read More: Pilot Error Caused Super Stallion Rollover, Investigation Shows

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