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Deadly Marine Osprey Crash Triggers Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against Bell Textron, Boeing, Rolls-Royce

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Four families of Marines killed in a 2022 V-22 Osprey training crash in California filed a wrongful death lawsuit Thursday against the companies that manufacture the controversial tilt-rotor aircraft, claiming that unaddressed flaws are responsible for the crash.

The Marines died on June 8, 2022, after their Marine Corps Osprey, call sign Swift 11, crashed due to a mechanical issue called a hard-clutch engagement. The lawsuit, shared with Military.com, points to well-publicized issues with the Osprey’s mechanics and names as defendants Bell Textron and Boeing, which design and manufacture the aircraft, and Rolls-Royce, which designs and manufactures the engines.

Military.com has reported on the circumstances of the Swift 11 incident; the ongoing mechanical issues with the V-22; and the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy’s response to recent deadly crashes. The lawsuit follows an Osprey crash in Japan in November that killed eight airmen and a subsequent stand-down that officially ended in March, though the aircraft still faces flight restrictions that keep it close to landing spots.

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“We want assurance that these components have been successfully redesigned, tested and rendered safe,” Amber Sax, the wife of Marine Corps Capt. John Sax, who was killed in the Swift 11 crash, said in an emailed statement. “The importance of addressing this cannot be overstated — it is not just about fixing a machine, but about ensuring that no other family has to endure this loss again.”

Media representatives for Bell, Boeing and Rolls-Royce did not immediately return a request for comment.

“For years, Bell-Boeing and others have asserted that this aircraft and all of its systems are safe, yet the facts keep telling a different story,” Timothy Loranger, one of the attorneys representing the families, said in an emailed statement.

Thursday’s lawsuit points to issues with the Osprey’s interconnect drive system, or ICDS, which transfers power from one engine to both of the two rotors of the aircraft in case one of the rotor engines fails. It also raises the issue of hard clutch engagements, or HCEs, a clutch failure due to a slippage.

“The Osprey’s ICDS also lacks redundancy, contributes to catastrophic systems failure, and grossly fails to meet specifications, because it allows a HCE on one side to initiate a HCE on the other side, which results in the assured loss of the aircraft and occupants with no corrective action available to the brave military pilots and crew, who are along for the ride to their deaths,” the lawsuit states.

The suit claims that the aircraft’s complex system of clutches and linkages is “flawed, unsafe, and does not meet the government’s specifications for safety and/or reliability,” and it cites the Osprey’s engine-controlling computer as part of the issue as well.

The computer, called Full Authority Digital Engine Controls, or FADEC, has the ability to shut down the engines of an aircraft without input from the pilots. The complaint says that, in the case of Swift 11, it turned off the aircraft’s right engine as the pilots were struggling to figure out what was happening and keep the Osprey in the sky.

The complaint argues that Bell, Boeing and Rolls-Royce failed to properly and adequately design, integrate and manufacture the “aircraft, engines, FADECs, transmission, clutch, ICDS, and other systems and their component parts” to work together and operate as intended.
 

The suit charges the defendants with nine counts that range from design and manufacturing defects to negligence, fraudulent representation and breach of contract.

The federal civil lawsuit was filed Thursday in the Southern District of California by attorneys at the Wisner Baum law firm on behalf of the families of Sax; Cpl. Nathan Carlson; Cpl. Seth Rasmuson; and Lance Cpl. Evan Strickland. Capt. Nicholas Losapio was also killed in the 2022 crash, but a family member for Losapio was not named in the lawsuit.

The Marine Corps first disclosed the existence of the HCE issue in August 2022, but the problem was framed by the service as manageable, infrequent and occurring usually right around takeoff.

However, later reporting by Military.com showed that, in at least one case, the issue struck an Air Force Osprey mid-flight over Arizona. That incident not only forced an emergency landing but caused more than $5 million in damage to the aircraft, according to an Air Force report.

Both of that aircraft’s engines and five of its gearboxes needed to be replaced, as well as nearly a dozen other components. It took a team of six, working 12-hour days, 45 days to repair the aircraft, according to the report.

In July 2023, when the Marine Corps released the investigation results into the Swift 11 crash, it became clear that the HCE issue was a deadly one — and without a clear fix.

Although military officials said they identified a fix — replacing a component called the “input quill assembly” after 800 hours of flight — leaders overseeing the aircraft’s operation have also conceded they don’t fully understand the issue.

“We have a good understanding of what happens and where it happens, and it happens inside of the input quill,” Col. Brian Taylor, the manager of the V-22 program, told Military.com in July. “The piece that we’re missing, really, is just the initiating events. … That’s the part that we’re continuing to look for.”

Despite the lack of understanding, the military said replacing the quill early would reduce clutch incidents by 99%, to the skepticism of experts and Sax herself.

Then, in March, months after another deadly Osprey crash claimed the lives of eight airmen off the coast of Japan, the military revealed the aircraft suffered a new, undisclosed mechanical failure that is not fully understood.

Taylor again went before reporters and said that he and his office had “high confidence that we understand what component failed, and how it failed,” before noting that “what we are still working on is the ‘why.'”

The Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy are all slowly returning to flight after that deadly crash but are proscribed in how they can fly the aircraft. The aircraft are limited to flying within 30 minutes of a suitable landing area in case anything goes wrong.

Related: Military Ospreys Can’t Fly More Than 30 Minutes from Landing Airfield Months After Grounding Lifted

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