Delaware LODD Prompts Suit Over Non-Locking Carabiner

The estate of a Delaware firefighter killed in a helicopter training exercise in 2016 has filed suit against the companies that sold the harness system he was wearing when he fell to his death.

Timothy McClanahan died on July 11, 2016 when he fell about 100 feet from a Delaware State Police helicopter during a hoist training exercise. The safety harness that connected him to the helicopter relied upon a non-locking carabiner that reportedly allowed him to become detached.

McClanahan was a firefighter with the Lewes Fire Department and served with the Delaware Air Rescue Team (DART) that assists the Delaware State Police with rescue related activities.  He was 46 at the time of his death and the father of two children.

The suit was filed in Delaware Superior Count on July 2, 2018 and names several interrelated companies as defendants, including Priority 1 Air Rescue Operations, Inc., Priority 1 Air Rescue Consulting, Inc., Priority 1 Air Rescue Operations Arizona LP, and Priority 1 Air Rescue Operations, Inc. d/b/a Last Ditch Survival Systems. The companies sold the harness systems to the State of Delaware and provided consulting and training services.

According to the complaint:

  • On July 11, 2016, Timothy J. McClanahan, then age 46, fell over 100 feet to the ground from an airborne Bell 429 helicopter because the defendants had provided a Hoist Operator Tether with a non-locking connector (carabiner) that became disengaged from the Defendants’ safety harness being worn by Mr. McClanahan.
  • As the result of the fall, Timothy J. McClanahan suffered multiple fractures and traumatic injuries which directly resulted in his death.
  • As the result of the death of Timothy J. McClanahan, his children, Brenden McClanahan and Mollie Anne Skipper have suffered mental anguish and grief; they have lost the guidance, services and emotional support of their father; they have lost his financial support; and they have suffered a pecuniary loss.
  • The Priority 1 Defendants tout that “Priority 1 Air Rescue group provides the most innovative and effective Helicopter Search & Rescue and Tactical Training and Operational SAR/MEDEV AC aircrew staffing, support, and program implementation capability in the world.”
  • The Priority 1 Defendants claim that “We offer true ‘turn-key’ mission capability by providing all related mission role equipment, instructional training, SAR/HEMS aircrew staffing services, certification support, and program implementation.”
  • The Priority 1 Defendants provided … the mission role equipment, instructional training, certification and program implementation that directly led to the death of Timothy J. McClanahan.
  • The Priority 1 Defendants had designed, configured, recommended and sold to the State of Delaware the safety harness system worn by decedent, Timothy J. Mcclanahan, including the “Hoist Operator Tether with ‘Kong”‘ [connector]”
  • The Kong Tango connector, manufactured by an Italian carabiner manufacturer, Kong S.P.A., is an aluminum carabiner with a double gate, which means that it can be inadvertently opened during normal usage within a helicopter; Kong S.P.A. also manufacturers locking carabiners which could not be inadvertently opened and would have prevented this accident.
  • The Priority 1 Defendants had trained decedent Timothy J. McClanahan and the other crew members on the use of the Hoist Operator Tether with Kong connector.
  • The purpose of the Hoist Operator Tether with Kong connector was to provide a fall restraint and fall protection to the systems operator so that the operator could lean forward onto the helicopter skid without fear of falling from the aircraft; the Tether was attached to the “D” ring on the rear of the Defendants’ safety harness by the Kong connector, with the other end being securely attached to a fixed anchor point within the helicopter.
  • As is detailed in this Complaint, the Defendants use of a non-locking connector on its Hoist Operator Tether directly led to the fatal injuries and death of decedent Timothy J. Mcclanahan.
  • As the defendants knew or reasonably should have known, movement by crew members within the helicopter could and would result in the release or opening of its non-locking connector and the disengaging of their tether from their safety harness; because the tether is attached to the back of the safety harness, the hoist operator would not be aware that the tether was disengaged and the operator would still believe that they were safely protected as expressly warranted by the Defendants.
  • Upon information and belief, the State of Delaware relied upon the technical expertise and recommendations from Priority 1 Defendants in making the purchasing decisions to equip its Bell 429 helicopters with THE safest and most reliable FAA approved equipment to ensure the safety of the DART members, Delaware State Police, other rescue personnel and rescue victims during rescue and training operations.
  • Upon information and belief, the State of Delaware relied on upon the technical expertise and recommendations from Priority 1 Defendants in making the purchasing decisions to equip its Bell 429 helicopters with rescue equipment and gear which had received TSO (Technical Standard Order) authorization.

The complaint alleges negligence, breach of warranty, strict products liability and wrongful death.

Here is a copy of the complaint: McClanahan v Priority 1 Air Rescue


About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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