LOS ANGELES (WIVB) – The Robinson Helicopter Company, which made the aircraft Mark Croce and Michael Capriotto crashed in last month, manufactures choppers that “tend to have too many crashes”, according to an aviation attorney.
Croce and Capriotto died January 9th when their Robinson R66 crashed just outside of Harrisburg, Pa. The prominent local businessmen were returning to Buffalo from Maryland. The helicopter experienced an “in-flight break-up”, according to the preliminary report released by the National Transportation Safety Board earlier this month.
While an exact cause of the crash likely won’t be known for at least a year, experts in the aviation industry are no stranger to Robinson choppers. Ronald Goldman, an attorney with Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, the same man who said Robinson helicopters have too many crashes, has litigated about a dozen cases involving the company.
“The policy has been at Robinson that they do not keep any permanent files or records of crashes or incidents involving their helicopters,” Goldman said. “Everybody else does. They build a library of information that researches can look at.”
Bill Lawrence runs ConsulAir, a consulting firm which investigates aviation disasters. He, too, thinks Robinson has an issue with record keeping.
“Parts-failure and parts-trafficking is a very important aspect of safety,” Lawrence said.
“They throw all of that away,” he added.
In 2018, the Los Angeles Times did an analysis of helicopter crashes. Their data showed the Robinson R44 had the highest fatal accident rate among major models from 2006 to 2016. The R22 ranked fifth.
The R66, which Croce was flying, did not rank on the Times list. However, Goldman and Lawrence still have concerns about its design.
“As in most manufacturers, as you build succeeding models, you don’t get rid of all the problems that were in the early models because you carry a lot of the design characteristics forward,” Lawrence said. “Robinson still has a problem with the low inertia rotor system.”
Goldman pointed out he believes the R66 has issues with its fuel control system.
“I don’t know whether that is the case in (the Pennsylvania crash),” he said. “But one would certainly have to look.”
A senior Robinson investigator is working with the NTSB and the FAA in support of their investigation, according to company spokesperson Loretta Conley.
“At this time, we are not aware of, or have been advised by the authorities, of any problems associated with this aircraft,” Conley said. “If, however, the investigation results in any findings regarding the aircraft, Robinson will immediately review and notify our customers accordingly.”
Conley added the company is “devastated ” by the deaths of Croce and Capriotto.
“When you have an in-flight break-up as apparently we do here, we would rule out, although not necessarily completely, but rule out pilot error as a probable cause,” Goldman opined. “Could there be more than one cause? Could pilot error have possibly led to an in-flight break-up? It’s a theoretical possibility but we have no reason to believe that’s a possibility from what I’m reading now.”
“I don’t know what happened. And nobody does yet,” Lawrence cautioned. “But my gut feel is that whatever it was that happened, the pilot didn’t have the capability to deal with that in a manner that allowed him to get it on the ground.”
The final NTSB report is typically released about 12-18 months after the crash.