Lawsuit: Nurse complained of safety issues month before crash killed Ohio helicopter crew


Three people on board died in the crash

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A lawsuit has been filed on behalf of a nurse killed when a Survival Flight helicopter crashed in Zaleski, Ohio on Jan. 29, 2019.

The helicopter departed Grove City for a pickup in Pomeroy during a snow storm.

The complaint, filed in Franklin County Courts of the Common Pleas on Jan. 25 on behalf of Rachel Cunningham, alleges that Viking Aviation (D.B.A Survival Flight) didn’t provide a weather briefing to the pilot and didn’t discuss with the pilot the risks of the flight including bad weather conditions.

Three people on board died in the crash: pilot Jennifer L. Topper, 34, of Sunbury, and flight nurses Bradley J. Haynes, 48, of London and Rachel L. Cunningham, 33, of Galloway.

In a statement from Survival Flight, spokesperson Ryan Stubenrauch said: “Two years ago, a terrible tragedy took the lives of three brave people who’d dedicated themselves to saving the lives of others and Survival Flight will always mourn their loss. Our company has always made safety the top priority and we continue to learn, improve, and adapt in order to better serve our communities and save lives.”

Rachel Cunningham reported to Viking Aviation management about a month before the crash killed her that there were “deficient safety issues” and a “dangerous culture” the complaint alleges.

The complaint alleges that the company Survival Flight Air Ambulance was illegally operating in Ohio when Cunningham died. It goes on to say that Holzer Health System engaged in ‘helicopter shopping’, trying to find a helicopter company that will take a flight when other companies said “no” — in this case MedFlight and HealthNet Aeromedical Services — because of poor weather.

The pilot who flew the fatal crash didn’t receive a weather briefing, and didn’t complete a risk analysis worksheet, the complaint alleges. Instead, she was given her destination co-ordinates.

“Defendant Viking Aviation never disclosed to the pilot in command all of the significant adverse winter weather data and never discussed the combined risks of flying in the dark, over mountainous tree covered terrain, with ceilings under 3,000 ft, visibility of 5 miles and snow showers in the forecast,” the complaint alleges.

By 6:47 a.m, the helicopter had made it through the first snow band but encountered a second snow band. Despite emergency procedures, they never made it out of the second snow band and crashed into the forest before dawn broke at 7:39 a.m., the complaint said.

The National Transportation Safety Board issued a report on the crash. It made three new safety recommendations to the National Weather Service, and six new recommendations to Survival Flight as a result of its investigation. Safety problems at Survival Flight included a lack of comprehensive and effective flight risk assessment, a lack of a positive safety culture, the need for flight data monitoring programs, and other protocols.

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