No details of settlement in Cougar-Sikorsky lawsuit

Ashley Fitzpatrick
Published on November 26, 2011
File photo courtesy of Gary Hebbard A Sikorsky S-92 helicopter is seen in this 2008 file photo. Cougar has settled out of court with Sikorsky, following a legal claim against the manufacturer wherein the company sought compensation for loss of aircraft on March 12, 2009. The S-92s being used to ferry workers offshore Newfoundland have received upgrades for safety purposes since the loss of Cougar Flight 491.

A legal claim filed by Cougar Helicopters against Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., manufacturer of the S-92 helicopter, has been settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.

Cougar Flight 491 was a Sikorsky S-92. The flight crashed 55 kilometres off St. John's March 12, 2009 and resulted in the death of 17 of the 18 people on board.

Cougar Helicopters and eight insurance companies, led by Lloyd's of London, filed a $27-million claim against Sikorsky as a result of the crash. The statement of claim accused Sikorsky of using a "flawed" analysis to claim its chopper could run without oil in the main gearbox for 30 minutes.

Cougar Flight 491 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean 11 minutes after a massive loss of oil from the main gearbox.

In addition to Sikorsky, Transport Canada was named as a defendant in the Cougar lawsuit.

The claim against the regulator stated it owed a duty of care to S-92 operators to ensure the helicopter met standards for certification in Canada and that the regulator failed to take steps following an2008 incident in Australia and reconsider the so-called "extremely remote" clause that was part of the aircraft's original certification.

The claims against Sikorsky and Transport Canada were not proven in court.

The out-of-court settlement between Cougar, Sikorsky and Transport Canada was first revealed Friday in a CBC report.

"The action commenced by Cougar in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, seeking damages for loss of aircraft, against Sikorsky and Transport Canada has been settled and the action has been discontinued," a spokeswoman for Cougar, Candace Moakler, confirmed for The Telegram.

"The terms of the settlement are confidential."

Sikorsky also cited confidentiality when asked about the agreement and provided no further details.

A parts and repair subsidiary for Sikorsky, Helicopter Support Inc. (HSI), was named in the original filing of the Cougar lawsuit. The action against HSI was dropped by Cougar in fall 2009.

Sikorsky, meanwhile, had applied to the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador to have the case moved to Connecticut, where that company is based. In July, Sikorsky lost its appeal of a decision denying that move, and the case was to proceed in St. John's.

Meanwhile, a separate settlement between Sikorsky and both the sole survivor of the Cougar Flight 491 crash, Robert Decker, and the families of the deceased, was reached in December 2009.

Their lawsuit had been launched in the summer of 2009 alleging Sikorsky, Keystone Helicopters and their parent company, United Technologies Corp., made false claims about the safety of the S-92.

That lawsuit was voluntarily discontinued in favour of the negotiation of an out-of-court settlement.

None of the claims made against the companies were proven in court.

As for safety, the S-92s were grounded worldwide a little more than two weeks after the crash of Cougar Flight 491, when the Transportation Safety Board discovered titanium studs that secured the aircraft's filter bowl assembly to the main gearbox broke in mid-flight, leading to a loss of oil pressure and helicopter failure.

The titanium studs were changed to stronger, steel studs. The oil lubrication system was redesigned by Sikorsky and upgrades to the aircraft were called for by the manufacturer.

Sikorsky spokesman Paul Jackson said in an email Friday the company has "complete confidence" in the current state of the S-92 model.

Through its investigation of the crash of Cougar Flight 491, the national Transportation Safety Board found the loss of oil pressure was just one of some 16 factors involved in the crash.