Kreindler Leads Helicopter Recovery Effort on Llewellyn Glacier
- Kreindler won a critical appeal for the family of a commercial film director killed in a helicopter during the filming of a Nissan television spot.
- Partner and former Marine helicopter pilot Justin Green and the Kreindler team assembled and funded a private expedition on behalf of our client’s family to finally recover the victims and the wreckage on an icy, remote area of the Llewellyn Glacier in British Columbia.
- Kreindler’s team discovered new evidence during the expedition that pointed to a part that had been installed on the helicopter specifically for the filming of the TV commercial, a camera mount.
- The newly discovered evidence changed the complexion of the wrongful death lawsuit, a new defendant was identified — the camera mount manufacturer — and a legal fight ensued to hold the negligent defendant accountable.
Kreindler Recovers a Downed Helicopter and Crash Victims From Llewellyn Glacier
Recently, the California Court of Appeals reinstated claims brought by Kreindler & Kreindler against the manufacturer of a film camera mount which was installed on a Bell 206L-3 Long Ranger helicopter before it crashed on the Llewellyn Glacier in northwest British Columbia. The successful appeal of the case against Tyler Camera Systems allowed the final piece of the case to be resolved on its merits ending a more than seven-year crusade for justice, which began with a recovery expedition on the glacier and will end with a jury verdict in a courtroom.
A Big Assignment with Tragic Consequences
In 1999, Paul Giraud was hired to direct a Nissan Xterra commercial. The script called for an ice climber to claw his way up the Llewellyn Glacier in British Columbia to reach a vehicle perched on top. A helicopter and pilot from Trans-North helicopters were hired and a film crew was brought in. On June 22, 2000, four men were on board the helicopter as it flew low-level passes across the glacier and over the ice climber. Paul Giraud was in the left front seat, the pilot occupied the right front, and two cameramen sat in the back two seats.
As the helicopter made a run over the glacier, the pilot lost control. The main rotor struck a protrusion of ice along a crevasse causing it to fail and sending the helicopter into an ice wall where it broke apart, exploded and plummeted into the crevasse, killing everyone aboard.
The Canadian government immediately dispatched a recovery team to the Llewellyn Glacier, but concerns about shifting ice caused the team to permanently suspend efforts to recover the bodies and the wreckage from the crevasse.
The Canadian government’s inability or refusal to recover the victims and the wreckage compromised the ability to fully investigate the crash and its cause or causes.
A Team of Experts is Assembled
At the time, the Giraud family contacted Kreindler attorney Frank Fleming, a senior attorney in the New York office who is a former U.S. Marine helicopter pilot and has handled aircraft accident litigation for more that 27 years at the firm. He assembled a team of attorneys including partner Justin Green who also was a former U.S. Marine helicopter pilot with a record of attack helicopter missions in Operation Desert Storm.
The partners decided to take the extraordinary step of organizing and funding a private recovery mission to the Llewellyn Glacier to do what the Canadian government was unable to accomplish.
Kreindler filed suit in California against the known defendants, but without the wreckage there were too many unanswered questions that could hinder the case. The partners decided to take the extraordinary step of organizing and funding a private recovery mission to the Llewellyn Glacier to do what the Canadian government was unable to accomplish. Air safety expert and former National Transportation Safety Board investigator Douglas Herlihy was brought in to arrange and coordinate the expedition. In June of 2001, a team of world class ice climbers, glacier recovery specialists and helicopter pilots, as well as vessel and land support personnel, was assembled to attempt a recovery.
One month later, the expedition landed on the glacier, established a base camp on the northern boundary of the Llewellyn Glacier ice field and explored the crevasse where the helicopter had crashed. The team was able to recover three of the four victims, including Paul Giraud, and a majority of the wreckage off the glacier.
Investigation Yields a New Defendant
As a result of the evidence collected, the complexion of the wrongful death litigation changed and a new defendant was identified. Specifically, the on-scene investigator was able to determine that the manufacturer of the camera mount affixed to the nose of the helicopter was to blame. He found that no counterweights were installed to counterbalance the weight of the camera and the mount compromising the aircraft’s center of gravity and rendering it difficult to control in certain circumstances.
The original complaint had named unidentifiable “Doe” defendants and pointed to the camera and the mount as compromising the controllability of the helicopter. After discovering the identity of the camera mount manufacturer and studying its manuals, we amended the complaint to specifically name it as a defendant.
The claims against the helicopter operator and all defendants other than the camera mount manufacturer were settled for a substantial sum. The camera mount manufacturer moved for summary judgment and also to dismiss based upon the statute of limitations. In opposition to the motions, we pointed out that the identity of the camera mount manufacturer was unknown and not reasonably ascertainable until we recovered the wreckage from the glacier. In any event, because there was a minor child involved as a plaintiff, the statute of limitations was tolled with regard to her claim.
With respect to the summary judgment motion, the accident scene investigation during the recovery of the wreckage was critically important. Investigator Herlihy was able to establish not only that the weight of the camera, the mount and the battery altered the center of gravity of the helicopter, but that the passengers in the rear of the helicopter were not buckled into their seats and were likely moving around the helicopter looking for the best camera shot and angle. Movement around the cabin, with the changed center of gravity and lack of counterweights, would explain the sudden loss of control, which caused the helicopter to clip the ice above the crevasse.
The trial court granted defendants’ motions and dismissed all claims against the camera mount manufacturer, and the order was appealed.
Appeals Court Rules in Family’s Favor
In a sweeping victory for the family of Paul Giraud, a California Appeals Court reversed the trial judge and reinstated the case against the camera mount manufacturer, finding the amendment of the complaint to specifically name the defendant mount manufacturer related back to the original filing of the complaint and that summary adjudication was inappropriate.
The underpinnings of both of these rulings by the appeals court are directly related to Kreindler & Kreindler’s efforts to recover the victims and the wreckage from the crevasse. Though the investigation of the Giraud case presented a unique factual circumstance, in other respects the firm’s efforts are no different than in any other case. Each case accepted by the firm is fully and independently investigated. The tremendous and varied skills of the Giraud team included piloting, engineering, on site investigation, litigation and appellate practice.
The measures taken by Justin Green, Frank Fleming and Gretchen Nelson are typical of the Kreindler firm’s team approach to staffing its cases, matching the strengths of our attorneys to the issues presented.