Type of helicopter that crashed Tuesday has history of crashes

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As the National Transportation Safety Board investigates the fatal crash that claimed the lives of two WBTV employees, federal data detail a track record of crashes.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The National Transportation Safety Board has opened an investigation into Tuesday’s deadly helicopter crash that claimed the lives of WBTV pilot Chip Tayag and meteorologist Jason Myers.

The NTSB identified the helicopter as a Robinson R44. While it will likely take months for the investigation to reveal what caused the crash, federal data show this particular make and model has crashed more than any other helicopter since 2008.

NTSB data analyzed by WCNC Charlotte identified 480 crashes involving Robinson R44 aircraft during that time, accounting for almost 18% of all helicopter crashes.

Aviation and personal injury attorney Mike Slack, who said his firm has settled multiple lawsuits with the company, calls this particular helicopter’s track record “concerning.”

“I’m a pilot of airplanes. I’m also an aerospace engineer. I can tell you a lot of the problems pilots have with the R44 are induced or created by some of the design deficiencies in the helicopter,” Slack said. “They’re inexpensive and you get what you pay for with this helicopter. You don’t get a lot of performance, you don’t get a whole lot of safety margins with it. The manufacturer would argue the contrary, but quite frankly, the record speaks for itself.”

Slack said these helicopters are not just commonly used for news and traffic, but tours and sightseeing too.

A 2018 Los Angeles Times investigation found Robinson R44 crashes killed pilots and passengers more than any other helicopter in the decade between 2006 and 2016. The Times concluded that the R44 was involved in deadly crashes at a rate almost 50% higher than any of its peers, citing a statistic of 1.6 deadly accidents per 100,000 hours flown.

In response to the LA Times investigation, the Robinson Helicopter Company pointed out the vast majority of crashes were not the fault of the helicopter itself, but rather its operator. Slack disputes that.

“There are features of this helicopter that are particularly unforgiving and can surprise a very experienced pilot,” Slack said.

Fellow aviation attorney Timothy Loranger echoed those thoughts separately.

“It’s a helicopter that was designed to be affordable and what’s unfortunate about the helicopter is it also requires what we’re finding, what our experts tell us, is an exceptional ability to fly a helicopter,” Loranger said. “You need to be not just the average pilot, you need to have some exceptional skills to fly this helicopter and that’s because of the way it was designed.”

Federal data show the helicopter owned by WBTV was made in 1999.

WCNC Charlotte has reached out to the manufacturer, Robinson Helicopter Company, for comment and we are waiting to hear back.

It’s important to note the NTSB is investigating the crash and the cause of the crash has not been released.

Type of helicopter that crashed Tuesday has history of crashes

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