Helicopter Carrying Six People Crashes into Azusa Canyon
Helicopter Carrying Six People Crashes into Azusa Canyon

LA County has seen its fair share of accidents along its remote stretch of San Gabriel Canyon Road, just above Azusa along Highway 39. Coming on the heels of the Kobe Bryant wrongful death private helicopter accident, we now have a Sheriff’s Department Helicopter falling out of the sky in the Angeles National Forest near Azusa, California. It doesn’t happen too often that rescue vehicles become victims and need rescue. That happened on Saturday evening when Super Puma, a helicopter usually used for rescue work in the region, crashed in Azusa Canyon near Morris Dam.

I am attorney Michael Ehline. Below I will discuss the facts of this case, who can potentially face lawsuits, and what to do to protect your rights in a helicopter wreck. The Sheriff’s Department helicopter was making a call sign, Air Rescue 5, a victim of its rescue mission near Azusa.

Despite being severe, the helicopter crash did not kill the six people on board. The Los Angeles County sheriff, Alex Villanueva, was not on the rescue helicopter at the crash. Still, despite their injuries, all aboard should survive during a press conference with the Los Angeles Times. While the investigation over the L.A. County Sheriff’s helicopter is still ongoing, no clear reasons for the Sheriff’s helicopter crash have emerged other than the many clouds flying at a minimal elevation that day.

Who Can Be At Fault For the Helicopter Crash?

Air transportation cases can take a turn for the worse almost instantly. Although commercial aviation is safer than driving a passenger car, aircraft accidents are often mass casualty events. The recent case of Kobe Bryant shows how dangerous it is to fly helicopters in mountainous areas with fog banks. Most aviation accidents are caused by human error, with most at-fault parties being privately and commercially licensed airplane or helicopter pilots.


The good news is that the total number of fatal helicopter accidents leveled off in 2019, with the second half of 2019 showing fewer accidents (69 compared to 53 in the first six months.)

There were also fewer fatalities, with 15 first and 9 in the second half. Annually, crash numbers stayed below total accidents during the last six years. (See also U.S. Helicopter Safety Team (USHST) data.

Common Causes of Helicopter Crashes

Many causes exist for deadly chopper crashes, including:

  • Negligent Maintenance: Improper maintenance is a huge reason these birds fall. Helicopters are complex machines requiring flight logs to measure airframe worthiness, even if the bird looks terrific on the outside. Preventative maintenance is required federally by California state, civilian, and military regulations.
  • Aviator Error: Pilot errors caused by negligence remain the leading operational cause of helicopters crashing. (Human error includes flying too fast for the weather, hovering too low to the tarmac, or rapidly descending.)
  • Negligent Air Traffic Controllers: As we saw in the Bryan case, the survivors went after the air traffic controllers. These people relay safe flight paths, weather warnings, take-off, and landing instructions. These people must continuously contact pilots and the flight crewmember(s) responsible for navigation. When air traffic control gives pilots erroneous data or makes a bad judgment call, these individuals and their management can be held liable to pay for damages caused.
  • Failure of Flight Components: Older components that were supposed to be swapped out can fail over time. That would be the responsibility of the ground crew. But some airframe and internal parts are wrong from the manufacturing plant. This can lead to a product liability lawsuit for failure to warn or design defects.

Like humans themselves, each case is different and unique. Under California’s pure comparative negligence laws, even a negligent pilot can sue others for any negligence they contributed to the helicopter crash. But any benefits the negligent parties receive as compensation will be reduced by their comparative degree of fault.

Suppose the rescue helicopter pilot was an employee. In that case, they might have a case against their employer’s worker’s compensation insurance (no evidence of fault required to collect financial compensation) and a negligent manufacturer who made a part that was not fit for its particular use. The idea behind all payments is to help pay back out-of-pocket losses, including their past, present, and future lost wages, medical expenses, property losses, pain, and suffering. There could also be a government claim against the City or County, but the facts are unclear as of yet.

The rescue helicopter manufacturing company and companies that built its component parts can also be on the hook for disability payments as a third-party defendants.

Failing to design and build reasonably safe products and warn about dangers not reasonably discoverable by a consumer gives rise to a product’s liability suit if the elements of negligence or recklessness are present. In some cases, manufacturers are held strictly liable (presumed negligent) under California law.

Are you a victim of product defects, manufacturing, design, or deceptive marketing? You may have a case for inadequate warning or unfair business practices under Business and Professions Code Section 17200, et. seq.

A pilot error leading to a deadly accident or one with serious injuries gives rise to a case against the pilot and the commercial aircraft company under the doctrine of respondeat superior. (This generally means the master is liable for the bad acts of its servants while in the course and scope of employment.) Employees’ negligent actions are usually avoidable with proper guidance and leadership by employers.

The downside is that work comp becomes the sole compensation method against the employer by the injured pilot or helicopter crew on its payroll.   Unless an exception applies, most airline employees can’t bring claims in a civil court against an employer. In other words, their damages are capped unless they can prove an exception applies or find a deep-pocket defendant.

But you can’t sue all third parties. For example, bird strikes. You can’t sue a bird for downing your aircraft.

Some examples of helicopter pilot error:

  • Failing to be aware of surroundings and dangers, and environmental factors
  • Flying the aircraft below the approved flight envelope from the deck
  • Crashing into other aircraft with objects such as power lines
  • Flying a helicopter in poor weather (fog, rain, storms, etc.)
  • Rapidly descending and crashing
  • Preflight inspections are treated with short shrift or not conducted at all.

Helicopter accident victims suffer horrible deaths, usually burning to death.

If passengers and crew are lucky enough to make it out alive, they are known to face catastrophic injuries, including:

  • Fractures and broken ribs
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Burn injuries
  • Amputation
  • Blindness.

Trauma victims suffering a helicopter accident have a potential legal action to cover their property damage and bodily injuries. These financial damages might cover some or all of your losses, including the past, present, and future lost wages, medical charges, and mental anguish/pain and suffering.

Our helicopter accident lawyers are supremely confident we can help. Because of this, we offer a free case consultation over the phone. In your risk-free call, we can listen to your side of the story, look at the facts and available evidence and advise you about your chances of success.

Reasons For this L.A. County Sheriff Helicopter Accident?

The reasons for the Azua Canyon crash are still being investigated, with no legal findings until those details are disclosed. Following its everyday routine, the helicopter was on a rescue operation at its crash. It was supposed to carry a passenger who had a car accident near San Gabriel Canyon Road.

The helicopter was soon in the same position as the vehicle as it lay there on the side of the road, waiting for the passengers to be rescued several feet from a 200-foot cliff drop close to Morris Dam in the Angeles National Forest.

“The fact that it did not roll over and go down, or that there was no fire, is nothing short of a miracle,” said Sheriff Alex Villanueva. “So we’re very grateful for that.”

Two paramedics were extracted from the rescue helicopter, including the pilot and co-pilot. Fortunately, the firefighters provided all six passengers with the much-needed aid at the scene. The ups and downs of the terrains could have resulted in a much more serious crash and took the lives of many.

However, Sheriff Alex thinks that it was a miracle that the helicopter did not roll over and fall into the several feet deep precipices next to the aircraft in the Angeles National Forest in Los Angeles County. As per the medical reports of the passengers, they all have varying injuries, but none of them has wounds serious enough to cause any fatal damage.

The five passengers who work with the Sheriff and a doctor are now under treatment and will supposedly be on their feet in a few days. Despite the injuries, the passengers are grateful that they came out of the horrible accident alive because the Morris Dam drop next to the helicopter would have completely changed the outcome had the helicopter rolled over into the drop. Some things have been quite miraculous in this incident, as there was no fire at the scene.

Usually, when an aircraft crashes into the ground, fire always causes even more damage than the crash. Even if someone survives, the fire burns the survivors. When a Sheriff’s helicopter on a medical call crashes into the mountains, we’d think there’d be fire and severe burn injuries, death, and disfigurement. But here, all six passengers came out alive and okay. At least, that is what Sheriff Alex Villanueva told the L.A. Times and other news outlets.

The flight was not unusual for the helicopter where the helicopter crashed. Fire officials often request help from the County sheriff for rescue flights to Pomona Valley Medical Center and other emergency triage locations near the San Gabriel Mountains, similar to the mission on that Saturday afternoon. Rescue helicopter flights often occur in the Angeles National Forest to carry back hikers and car drivers who have accidents in the region’s difficult topography.

In Pasadena, Huntington launched to start the rescue operation the Angeles National Forest rescue operation. The conditions were not unusual. So the crash might have resulted from a device malfunction or human error. No concrete evidence is yet available to make any claims over liability over the Los Angele County Angeles National Forest rescue helicopter accident.

A similar incident had taken place a month ago, too, when another helicopter in the use of the police came down to the ground in Newport Harbor. The helicopter passenger was not lucky enough to survive and took his last breath under the pain of wounds and injuries. Luckily, the helicopter pilot in that particular incident came out alive and not with any serious injuries, similar to the recent Angeles National Forest case.

Who Is Liable for the Helicopter Crash Near the San Gabriel Reservoir?

The National Transportation Safety Board has started its crash investigation into the Angeles National Forest incident. The identities of UCLA doctors and all deputies surviving the crash of Los Angeles County’s helicopter remain a mystery. But their survival remains a miracle to many personal injury lawyers and transportation experts who know this mountainous area in the Angeles National Forest. You have to keep a follow-up on this Sheriff Helicopter Crash story to understand what caused the crash and if there are any other significant developments in the future.

Injuries Suffered?

According to Sheriff Alex Villanueva, various injuries arose from the Angeles National Forest Sheriff helicopter crash, including fractures. But some crash victims were more banged up than others, with broken ribs after the helicopter and another in critical condition dropped from the sky, lying on its side.

Learn More About Suing For a Helicopter Accident Today

Were you a passenger or the doctor from UCLA aboard the crashed L.A. Sheriff’s Department helicopter and want to learn about your worker’s compensation or third-party personal injury rights for negligence against Los Angeles County, the pilot, or the helicopter manufacturer? The brilliant, charismatic helicopter accidents at Ehline Law Firm offer free legal consultations to all victims in California.

We are available 24/7, 7 days per week, to help you recover maximum compensation under California law. Call us today to discuss your Sheriff’s department helicopter accident at (213) 596-9642, or use our online contact us form to consult your case with a world-class attorney. We’ll go all the way for you and your loved ones.


Michael Ehline

Michael Ehline is an inactive U.S. Marine and world famous legal historian. Michael helped draft the Cruise Ship Safety Act and has won some of the largest motorcycle accident settlements in U.S. History. Together with his legal team, Michael and the Ehline Law Firm collect damages on behalf of clients. We pride ourselves in being available to answer your most pressing and difficult questions 24/7. We are proud sponsors of the Paul Ehline Memorial Motorcycle Ride, and a a Service Disabled Veteran Operated Business. (SDVOB.) We are ready to fight.

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