Two Helicopters Crash While Flying Too Close Together Over Catalina

When two military helicopters crashed in the ocean off Santa Catalina Island in 1993, a well-known civilian photographer and a marine pilot were killed and four marines rescued. Our client, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who became an American Airlines captain and was a senior Naval Reserve aviator, was on freelance assignment aboard a UH-1N Huey taking pictures of an AH-1 Super Cobra flying adjacent. They were in such a close formation that their main rotors hit and both helicopters went into the water.

We represented a widow and two children in the case under the Death on the High Seas Act (DOSHA-46 U.S.C. app. §§ 761-768) because the crash occurred more than three miles off the California coastline. The act was intended to compensate heirs of seamen killed in international waters and has also been applied to aircraft crashes. It filled a gap in maritime law which previously allowed no recovery for wrongful death caused by someone’s negligence. Under DOSHA, however, damages are limited to pecuniary loss – those that can be quantified economically such as loss of income. Presumably, under the act, if the decedent was not providing monetary support to his or her heirs, there may be no provable damages. We argued that DOSHA should not apply, because the crash occurred between Catalina Island and the mainland and within the ring of coastal islands off the California coast.

AWARD: Confidential Settlement

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