According to a new story from the Washington Post, the mother of a teenage girl killed in the 2008 crash of a Maryland State Police medical helicopter has come forward to join other parties in suing the FAA over the incident. Her suit claims that inattentive air traffic controllers were largely to blame for her daughter’s death, as well as the deaths of three others who were on board at the time of the accident. The mother, Stephanie Younger, claims that the controllers were negligent and unresponsive, and failed to guide the pilot of the medical chopper safely in bad weather conditions.
Younger filed the lawsuit, which does not cite monetary damages, on Monday in U.S. District Court. It follows four other suits filed since 2010 against the Federal Aviation Administration in connection with the crash of the Maryland State Police helicopter “Trooper 2.” The Baltimore Sun reported that Younger’s suit will, most likely, be the final suit lodged against the FAA regarding the 2008 accident.
The lone survivor of the crash, the families of a flight paramedic and emergency medical technician who had been on board Trooper 2, and the state of Maryland have also filed suits over the incident.
In each of the suits, “controller failures” and “lack of training” are alleged to have been primary contributors to the crash of the police medical helicopter. According to the plaintiffs, the pilot of Trooper 2 was given weather information by ATC that was several hours out of date — on a foggy, rainy night with very low visibility. The lawsuits also allege that the pilot, a retired police corporal, did not receive competent guidance as he struggled to land the helicopter in the inclement conditions.
Stephanie Younger’s suit alleges that the air traffic controllers were inattentive and uncommunicative after the pilot told them he faced worsening weather conditions that prevented continuing the air transport to the hospital. Further, it claims that the controllers gave the pilot outdated weather information that indicated an inaccurate, higher visibility level during his attempts to land.
According to the Maryland Independent, court documents state that the pilot of Trooper 2 could not pick up a navigation system known as a glideslope to navigate to the runway at Andrews Air Force Base. The documents also state that an Andrews AFB air traffic controller told the pilot, “It’s [the glideslope] showing green on the panel, but you’re the only aircraft we’ve had in a long time, so I don’t really know if it’s working or not.” An air traffic controller also told the pilot that she could not give him the ground-based radar called “airport surveillance radar approach,” which provides lateral and vertical guide to a safe runway landing. No more attempts were made to reach Trooper 2 after the pilot’s communication.
Ashley Younger and Jordan Wells, then ages 17 and 18 respectively, were picked up by Trooper 2 following an automobile accident in Waldorf, MD. The helicopter team first headed to Prince George’s Hospital Center in nearby Cheverly. However, due to the increasingly low visibility from fog and rain, they diverted course and ultimately crashed in the woods of Walker Mill Regional Park in District Heights – short of Andrews Air Force Base, where the pilot was trying to complete an emergency landing. A ground ambulance was waiting at Andrews AFB to finish transporting the patients to the hospital in the bad weather conditions.
The 18-year old Wells survived the crash but sustained major injuries. Ashley Younger, as well as the pilot, a state police paramedic, and a volunteer medic did not survive. Ashley’s mother made panicked calls to the Maryland State Police all night trying to find out if her daughter was okay. Back in 2008, The Wellses claimed frustration that they were not notified of the car accident or the helicopter crash until 4 a.m..
Still up for question is the issue of whether the two teenagers should have been lifted by helicopter in the bad weather at all. Ashley Younger called her mother just before 11 p.m. and calmly explained that she and Wells had just been in an accident. Her mother rushed to the scene with her best friend and Younger’s grandmother. Ashley seemed fine, her mother recalled: no bleeding, no broken bones, just some chest pain. However, first responders to the car accident decided the victims needed to be transported to the hospital by helicopter for treatment.
“If I am talking to her, and there is no blood and there is no broken anything, and it’s not life-threatening, and if the weather is already bad, why would you put a child by herself without a parent in a helicopter?” Younger asked in a 2008 interview.
Younger’s suit does not cite monetary damages. Wells’ suit seeks $50 million. The family of flight paramedic Mickey lippy is seeking $15 million, and the family of emergency medical technician Tonya Mallard is seeking $7 million. In addition, the state of Maryland has filed a $4 million lawsuit.
“Everyone aboard that helicopter, including Ashley Younger, relied upon air traffic controllers to provide accurate information and assistance and to assure passenger safety,” declared Younger’s attorney.
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and the U.S. Justice Department determined that the probable cause of the helicopter crash was the pilot’s descending too quickly as he struggled to get out of rapidly deteriorating weather. According to the Washington Examiner, The NTSB blamed the fast descent on the pilot’s inexperience. However, the NTSB also noted and criticized the outdated weather information that was incorrectly relayed to the pilot from air traffic controllers at Ronald Reagan National Airport and Andrews Air Force Base.
Deciding the cause of an air accident is a serious matter and Air Ambulance Weekly does not intend to place blame on the pilot of the helicopter, the air traffic controllers, or any other party involved in the crash. Our goal at AAW is to keep you informed on matters in the air medical industry. We would, however, like to hear your opinions on this story. Please feel free to comment below if you have any opinions, anecdotes or anything else to contribute.