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Record Settlement Reached In Helicopter Crash

By Alan Gionet

DENVER (CBS4)- Critically-injured flight nurse Dave Repsher has settled a lawsuit with two companies following the July 3, 2015 crash of a Flight for Life helicopter on takeoff from the St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco.

The $100 million agreement is believed to be the largest pre-trial settlement in a single personal injury case in U.S. history.

David Repsher
David Repsher (credit: CBS)

Repsher settled with the manufacturer Airbus Helicopters SAS and Airbus Helicopters Incorporated and the Colorado operator of the helicopter, Air Methods Corporation.

The helicopter lifted off only briefly, flying for 32 seconds before crashing in the parking lot and catching fire. Repsher was burned over 90 percent of his body and nearly died several times as he spent over a year in the hospital in a recovery considered miraculous.

helicopter frisco crash flight for life
(credit: Lake Dillon Fire)

After the helicopter crashed, fuel spilled out and ignited killing pilot Patrick Mahany and burning Repsher over 90 percent of his body. Another flight nurse Matt Bowe was also injured, though less severely.

AS350 B3e Helicopter Crash at Frisco, Colorado, July 3, 2015 by NTSBgov on YouTube

The NTSB's final report on the incident included concerns about the spread of fuel due to the construction of the helicopter under standards from the 1970s not crash resistant fuel systems updated in 1994.

helicopter frisco crash flight for life
(credit: Lake Dillon Fire)

The NTSB wrote, "The helicopter was not subject to these requirements because it was certificated according to the regulations that were in effect in December 1977, when the Federal Aviation Administration provided initial type certificate design approval for AS350 series helicopters."

The settlement of the suit does not include admission of wrongdoing by the companies. The NTSB also identified safety issues including the lack of a cockpit alert to indicate loss of hydraulic boost to the pedal controls. Crash investigators found Mahany did not return a hydraulic switch to its "on" position resulting in a critical loss of hydraulic pressure on takeoff. The NTSB also recommended changes to tail rotor flight controls.

helicopter frisco crash flight for life
(credit: Lake Dillon Fire)

Repsher and his wife Amanda fought to ensure the lawsuit was not settled with a confidentiality agreement.

It is the greatest desire of David and his wife, Amanda Repsher, that all helicopters have the crash resistant fuel system as standard equipment so that no one ever again suffers the severe burn injuries Dave received," said Gary C. Robb, who represented Repsher and his wife Amanda in the product defect and personal injury suit.

Dave and Amanda Repsher (credit: CBS)
Dave and Amanda Repsher (credit: CBS)

In the past year, Dave Repsher has become stronger with the help of a donated kidney to help him after severe kidney damage from heavy antibiotics used to save his life. He continues his recovery and is working to regain use of his hands among other challenges.

Dave Repsher is fighting a virus right now, but replied to questions from CBS4's Alan Gionet.

Was it important to you to ensure you were not bound by confidentiality in this suit?

Yes. It has always been our mission to be able to speak out and seek change within the industry. Confidentiality would have limited our ability to express our concerns and work on improving safety in the industry.

Is there a sense of relief that the suit is over?

We are thankful to be at this point, it is another milestone in our journey. Now, we can focus on the future.

Do you feel the aircraft design led to the outcome?

According to the NTSB, there were several factors that led to the crash and my resulting injuries.  These include: a lack of a crash resistant fuel system; design of the helicopter's dual hydraulic system; and that I was ejected from the helicopter.

Now that this is concluded I imagine you are thinking about Patrick?

We often think of both Patrick and Matt. Patrick is very much missed and we admire Karen's strength and commitment to improving the safety of the industry.

What are your plans now?

Unfortunately, I like so many others have been hit hard by the viral season and my goal right now is to get healthy, hopefully in time for the Dawg Nation pond hockey tournament starting the 9th of February at Copper Mountain. I have ongoing procedures and upcoming surgeries over the next weeks. Long term, Amanda and I very much want to return to some of the activities we enjoyed prior to the crash, like rafting. We are very much looking forward to moving back home to Silverthorne hopefully soon, and are anxious to begin thanking everyone who has stood by us these last 2 ½ years and begin paying it forward.

Repher's attorney Murray Ogborn says the settlement should spur changes.

"I think this has given a boost to the speed at which things are going to move to increase flight safety," Ogborn told CBS4 on Thursday.


Alan Gionet is anchor of CBS4 This Morning and reports on a wide variety of issues and "Good Question" stories. He started at CBS4 in 1994. Follow Alan on Twitter @AlanGTV or on Facebook.

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