This week, nearly three years after billionaire Thomas Stewart's helicopter crashed on Valentine's Day in 2010, the National Transportation Safety Board released its report into what happened. The agency's conclusion is surprising: it believes that Stewart's 5-year-old daughter likely caused the fatal crash.
Thomas Stewart, his wife, brother-in-law, and his 5-year-old daughter all died in the helicopter crash, along with their pilot. The helicopter fell suddenly out of the sky after the horizontal rotors clipped and destroyed the vehicle's tail. All of the passengers died immediately.
While the NTSB cannot conclusively say what happened on the helicopter that day, it looked at two big factors to infer a likely cause.
First, it determined that Stewart was sitting in the copilot's seat with his daughter on his lap - a big violation of federal safety rules. Second, the physical evidence showed that the rotors apparently cut through the helicopter's tail because the vehicle dipped sharply and then shot back up into the sky. The force of these motions bent the rotors out of their normal trajectory and damaged the helicopter.
Why did the helicopter veer dramatically up and down? The NTSB believes that the daughter likely kicked or shoved at the flight controls located right in front of the copilot's seat, throwing the helicopter into a dive. When the pilot tried to compensate, the NTSB reported that he likely over-steered back upwards.
These findings could affect the ongoing litigation in this case. Some of the parties claim that the helicopter's rotors were defective or improperly maintained - it may be much harder for them to maintain those arguments in light of this report.
Source: Huffington Post, "Thomas Stewart's Daughter, Sydney, Thought To Have Caused Helicopter Crash That Killed 5," Nov. 11, 2012