Lone helicopter crash survivor files suit

Woman seeking $50 million damages from federal agency

Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010

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File photo by GARY SMITH
Jordan Wells, the only surviving victim of a Sept. 27, 2008, medevac helicopter wreck, arrived home in Waldorf the day before Thanksgiving in 2008 after an extended hospital stay. Her father, Scott Wells and mother, Lynn Wells, welcomed her home. Wells is suing the Federal Aviation Administration for $50 million.

The sole survivor of a 2008 Maryland State Police helicopter crash in District Heights has filed a $50 million lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration, alleging negligence on the part of air traffic controllers.

Jordan Wells, 20, of Waldorf filed the suit Dec. 7 with the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland in Greenbelt.

The suit states that before the Sept. 27, 2008, crash, the FAA traffic controllers who were based at Joint Base Andrews gave Maryland State Police pilot Stephen J. Bunker dated information on weather conditions, failed to guide him in the Trooper 2 helicopter to a safe landing as navigation equipment began to falter and did not alert paramedics to the scene of the crash.

Wells, who was 18 at the time, survived the crash into a wooded area of Walker Mill Regional Park in District Heights but lost her right leg as a result.

Bunker, 59, of Waldorf; trooper 1st class Mickey C. Lippy, 34, of Westminster, a state police flight paramedic; Tonya Mallard, 39, of Waldorf, an EMT for the Waldorf Volunteer Rescue Squad; and Ashley J. Younger, 17, of Waldorf, died in the crash.

Wells' attorney, Gregory Winton of Rockville's Aviation Law Firm, said Wells is "scarred from head to toe" and has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and feelings of survivor guilt. She has had to learn how to walk again and drives a modified vehicle, he said.

"Every day is a challenge," Winton said.

Wells' lawsuit is the third related to the crash. Kenneth Mallard, husband of Tonya Mallard, filed a $7 million suit against the FAA on July 21 in federal court that also claims the FAA did not ensure Trooper 2's safe landing. Mickey Lippy's widow, Christina P. Lippy of Westminster, sued the FAA in March in federal court for $15 million on behalf of her husband.

Prior to the crash, Trooper 2 picked up Younger and Wells, who were involved in a vehicle crash in Waldorf. The helicopter was originally going to fly to Prince George's Hospital Center in Cheverly, but foggy weather conditions forced them to reroute to Joint Base Andrews, where an ambulance waited to transport them to Prince George's Hospital Center.

Bunker was unable to pick up a glideslope, a navigation system to help guide an aircraft to the runway, during flight. While in contact with the air traffic controller at Andrews' tower, the controller replied, "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," court documents state.

An Andrews FAA air traffic controller told Bunker just before midnight that she could not provide him with "airport surveillance radar approach," radar that gives an aircraft vertical and lateral guidance to safely reach the runway, court documents state. No additional attempts were made with Trooper 2 shortly before it crashed, court documents state. Whether the air traffic controller who discussed the glideslope with Bunker is the same one who could not provide the radar service is not stated in court documents.

Winton said air traffic controllers never called to say the last-known coordinates of the helicopter, and that Wells' leg could have been saved if she had not been in the woods for two hours with the helicopter lying across her legs as paramedics struggled to find the aircraft's location.

"The infection set in because she was sitting in the mud with an open wound," said Winton, who added that to date Wells has had 30 surgeries related to injuries she suffered in the crash.

"She may have to lose the other leg as well because of the complications she's been dealing with."

FAA spokeswoman Arlene Salac said she could not comment on any of the pending litigation.