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Mother of copter crash victim sues aviation firms

The mother of a 3-year-old boy killed in a northeastern Pennsylvania helicopter crash last month filed the first lawsuit in the accident Friday, seeking unspecified damages from two aviation companies and the pilot's estate.

Crystal McKain of Leesburg, Va., sued Virginia-based Hampton Roads Charter Service, alleging that the company acted negligently when it leased the five-seat Robinson helicopter to Towson pilot David E. Jenny Jr. All five aboard were killed in the July 27 crash in Noxen, Pa.

The National Transportation Safety Board found this month that Jenny failed to follow federal regulations when he initiated a flight in low-visibility conditions in which he was not certified to fly. He also did not file a flight plan for the trip or obtain a weather briefing, the NTSB said.

"It was so utterly preventable," said Gary C. Robb, an aviation attorney who is representing McKain, whose son, Noah Robert McKain Woodland, died in the crash. "This particular charter service ... just recklessly entrusted this helicopter to someone who is clearly not sufficiently trained."

The lawsuit was filed in the Court of Common Pleas in Wyoming County, Pa., where the crash occurred.

Messages left Friday night at the Hampton Roads Charter Service were not returned. The company's principal agent, David Hynes, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Also killed in the crash were Bernard Michael Kelly, 58, of Ellicott City and his daughter, Leanna Mee Kelly, 27, of Savage; and Noah's father, Carl Robert Woodland, 29, of Lovettsville, Va.

The lawsuit also names Jenny's estate and Fort Meade-based Monumental Helicopters, where Jenny worked. An attorney for Monumental, Ann Thornton Field, said Friday that Jenny was not flying for the company at the time of the crash and that Monumental has no connection to the aircraft.

The helicopter left Tri-Cities Airport in Endicott, N.Y., at 9:51 p.m. and hit trees about 10:20 p.m., investigators said. The helicopter, which was headed to Jake Arner Memorial Airport in Lehighton, Pa., was destroyed in the crash.

At 10:19 p.m., the pilot made contact with air traffic controllers in Wilkes-Barre, telling them it was "inadvertent" that the group was flying in low-visibility conditions and asking for directions to the nearest airport. A minute later, the pilot acknowledged "having trouble maintaining control here."

The helicopter crashed on privately owned wooded land leased to an energy company, and there were no known witnesses to the accident, officials said. Authorities began a search, but the area was covered in heavy fog. The wreckage was found the next day about 1:50 p.m.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jfritze

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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