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Complaints filed by family of student and instructor, both alleging negligence by the Newberg company

BY AARON CURRAN KNAPP

Newberg Graphic reporter

Newberg-based charter and flight school Precision Aviation is now facing two lawsuits as a result of a 2015 helicopter crash that killed two men.

In addition to a lawsuit filed by the widow of flight student Kristian Blackwell last month, the family of instructor Anthony Gallerani filed a complaint of their own June 1, this time in the U.S. District Court of Oregon.

The lawsuit alleges that Precision negligently failed to sufficiently supervise its staff and maintain equipment, which led to the crash and Gallerani's death.

Precision CEO and Managing Director David Rath deferred to a statement he gave in response to the first lawsuit.

"Our hearts go out to the friends and family and obviously the Blackwells and the Galleranis, who was our employee," he said at that time. "It was a very — and still is — a very sad moment in 2015. And because the lawsuit is now pending, I really can't comment on any specifics or facts of the matter."

The crash occurred on July 1, 2015, when the helicopter, a 2004 Schweizer 269C owned and operated by Precision Aviation Training, began the flight at about 10 p.m. when the aircraft took off from Chehalem Airpark.

At the time, Gallerani, 31, was reportedly giving Blackwell, 29, his first night-time training flight.

A preliminary report of the crash from the National Transportation Safety Board pointed to mechanical issues as the cause, according to previous reporting.

A helicopter mechanic who witnessed the accident stated that after the helicopter departed northwest of the airport and was at about 500 feet above the ground, he heard the engine "roll back" signifying a reduction in power.

The helicopter then began an autorotation, which is a maneuver pilots use to land a helicopter in the event of engine failure, comparable to an airplane gliding.

A second witness near the airpark told investigators he heard a high-pitched squealing noise, "similar to that of an ungreased belt on a car," followed by a sound like a car backfiring.

He also said that prior to the accident he heard the helicopter operating at the airport and did not hear anything that would be cause for concern.

A summary of NTSB's investigation indicates the probable cause of the crash was "the loss of translation/rotational power between the engine and the transmission due to the severe wear of the forward spline portion of the lower coupling drive shaft."

This severe wear may have been caused by a loss of alignment between the drive shaft and the engine or a loss of lubrication, but investigators could not determine which due loss of parts and the fire that ignited after the crash, according to the summary.

The first complaint, filed May 23 in Yamhill County Circuit Court, attributes the crash to negligence by Precision, specifically to pilot error in failing to perform an autorotation and Gallerani's allegedly recent certification as an instructor.

The complaint claims $8.4 million in financial and emotional damages for widow Clare Blackwell.

The newest complaint — filed on behalf Gallerani's father, James Gallerani, as well as his fiancé, mother and two sisters — points to the replacement of the "short staff," a component of the aircraft that routes power from the engine to the rotor system which was replaced 29 days earlier.

The complaint alleges that Precision negligently "failed to adequately hire, train and supervise its employees and agents in performance of helicopter inspections and maintenance," specifically "failing to properly install the short staff on June 2, 2015."

Gallerani, of Massachusetts and 31 when he died, was a two-time Iraq War veteran.

His interest in helicopters began during his deployment, when he was injured in a mortar attack and airlifted by helicopter to a hospital, Precision said in a release in 2015.

The lawsuit does not specify a set amount in damages, but will seek past and future lost wages to be determined and proven through trial.

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