PRESCOTT, Ariz. (CN) - The U.S. Geological Survey's unmarked and foliage-covered cable caused a helicopter crash that killed four people in a remote canyon of the Verde River, the pilot's estate claims in a $10 million lawsuit.
Pilot Raymond Perry took off from Scottsdale Airport with three passengers around 8:30 a.m. on June 30, 2012. By noon Perry was flying low over the Verde River in north-central Arizona, through a narrow gorge with 200-foot cliffs not far from Sedona.
As it buzzed through the canyon, the helicopter "struck a cable that spanned the river at a narrow portion of the canyon," according to a report on the crash posted in March by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The cable was part of a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) gauging station, which is used to monitor the river's water level.
Searchers found the helicopter on its side in the middle of the river. Perry died in the crash along with passengers Mike and Linda Dunaway and Karen Stinn.
Steve Morales and Nicole Perry, co-representatives of Perry's estate, claim in their federal complaint for wrongful death that the USGS "negligently failed to provide markings or warning of the cable in any manner, and the cable was, for all practical purposes, entirely invisible and undetectable."
"The support structures for the cable on either side of the river are either completely obscured by foliage or embedded directly into the rock face of the canyon," the complaint states.
"Had the cable been properly marked and/or included in aeronautical charts, or its existence otherwise warned of, Mr. Perry would have been able to see and avoid the cable and the fatal accident would not have occurred. The United States Geological Survey was negligent in its failure to properly design, construct and maintain the Stream Gauging Station and to provide reasonable markings and warnings of the fatal hazard posed by the cable to pilots of helicopters."
According to the NTSB report, the USGS Bureau of Aviation manager stated that "the cable could not be seen against the background terrain of the river and rock canyon" in photos of the stream gauging station "taken sometime well before the accident."
The report also found that the accident occurred in a Special Conservation Area, in which it is recommended that pilots "make every effort to fly not less than 2,000 feet above ground level ... defined as the highest terrain within 2,000 feet laterally of the route of flight or the uppermost rim of a canyon or valley."
The plaintiffs seek $10.9 million for Perry's death and the destruction of the helicopter.
They are represented by Scott Salmon of the Cavanagh Law Firm in Phoenix.