Palm Beach Helicopter Pilot Was FaceTiming, Caused Deadly Crash, Lawsuit Claims

A Robinson R-22 like the one that crashed in December.
A Robinson R-22 like the one that crashed in December.
Elisabeth Klimesch via Wikimedia Commons

Last December 29, Palm Beach County was rocked with a report of a tragic helicopter crash involving two people in Lantana. The crash resulted in the serious injury of Jonathan Desouza, a student earning his certification, and the death of the pilot, instructor Luis Aviles.

Now, Desouza has filed suit in Palm Beach County Circuit Court against the deceased pilot and the company that offered the lesson — Palm Beach Helicopters. According to the suit, Aviles was playing around with his phone before the crash, FaceTiming when he should have been paying attention. 

The Robinson R-22 helicopter went down around 10:20 a.m. on a Monday. According to the lawsuit, Desouza and Aviles were "practicing an 'Approaches and Emergency Procedures' following a simulated engine failure." 

"During the course of this training flight, the subject helicopter entered an autorotation after the throttle was reduced to idle," the complaint says. "The subject helicopter remained in an auto-rotational descent causing the helicopter to crash violently into the ground." 

"I guess when we went to bring the motor back on, the motor just didn't start back up," Desouza explained to Channel 12 for a story that aired the day after the crash. "Three seconds later we hit the ground... And I pretty much blacked out."

Aviles was at the controls during the crash, the lawsuit says. But the document also claims the pilot was negligent in the course of the lesson, "acting recklessly and/or grossly negligent in using 'FaceTime' on his cellular device while operating the subject helicopter during a flight training." FaceTime is the iPhone feature that lets you video-call someone on the other end. It's a morbid thought to consider Aviles may have been looking at someone moments before the crash. 

The incident left Desouza with a number of injuries, including "a fractured spine, fractured coccyx, and fractured ribs." "As a direct and proximate result of the above-described negligence, Mr Desouza suffered permanent bodily injury, resulting pain and suffering, disability, disfigurement, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of capacity for the enjoyment of life, expense of hospitalization, medical and nursing care treatment and treatment, and loss of earnings," the suit claims. 

The complaint names the deceased as well as the company as defendants in the suit, charging negligence and liability. When New Times gave Palm Beach Helicopters a call Monday afternoon, the woman who answered the phone declined to comment. Desouza's attorney did not immediately return a call for comment. 


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