January 13, 1992
United Airlines, and the two manufacturers involved in lawsuits resulting from the July 19, 1989, crash of United Flight 232 at Sioux City, Iowa, settled for an undisclosed amount today with airplane crash victims’ families as they were about to begin jury selection in the federal court in Chicago. The McDonnell Douglas DC-10 aircraft was crippled when a defective titanium fan disk caused a violent uncontained failure of the center engine, sending shrapnel throughout the structures in the rear of the aircraft, and resulting in the loss of all of the hydraulic fluid in the aircraft’s control systems. This left the airplane with two working engines on each wing, but all control surfaces, including the wing flaps and ailerons, were all frozen in position because of the loss of hydraulic fluid. The attempted emergency landing resulted in 111 deaths and 185 injuries among the 296 passengers and crew aboard the aircraft.
The catastrophic fan disk failure was unprecedented. In simulator testing after the United Airlines airplane crash, none of the pilots could avoid a crash landing. The only working controls were the throttles on the two remaining engines, and according to an experienced United DC-10 pilot, “differential thrust does not provide reliable directional control.” The flaps and slats could not be lowered for landing, meaning the aircraft could not properly slow down before reaching the runway.
In interviews after the settlement was announced, David E. Rapoport, who was the lead trial attorney for the crash victims in the case and scheduled for jury selection today, summarized what he hoped to prove: “We had compelling evidence to show that this catastrophic failure should never have happened. The root cause of this airplane crash was a defective engine that contained a flawed fan disk at the time General Electric sold the engine to McDonnell Douglas for installation on a new DC-10 in the early 1970s. While United Airlines repeatedly inspected the fan disk using the fluorescent penetrant testing techniques recommended by General Electric and McDonnell Douglas, the ‘hard alpha’ defect was not discovered until pieces of the failed fan disk were located on a farm and subjected to testing after the airplane crash. The titanium used in General Electric’s earliest CF6-6 high-ratio bypass engines (which were specially designed to power wide bodied aircraft in the late 1960s) was the most likely to contain hard alpha defects like the one that caused the crash. Based on a history of field failures of smaller rotating parts made of the same raw material as the fan disk, General Electric should have done more to prevent this tragedy. The company should have known that the inspections it recommended were deficient and that the early vintage titanium fan disks needed replacement long before 1989.” Mr. Rapoport was selected as the lead trial lawyer in the federal case by the victims and their attorneys (a group that included the families of deceased passengers) in what was to be the first trial arising out of the crash of Flight 232. Mr. Rapoport personally represented eight members of the crew (all of whom survived the crash) and one surviving passenger.
Rapoport Weisberg & Sims P.C. is a personal injury law firm based in Chicago, Illinois. The personal injury attorneys at Rapoport Weisberg & Sims P.C. have achieved multimillion dollar verdicts and settlements for individuals with lawsuits arising from medical malpractice, product liability, semitruck and motor vehicle accidents, workplace injuries and construction accidents in Illinois and Wisconsin. Rapoport Weisberg & Sims P.C.’s premier aviation negligence lawyers represent victims of commercial and general aviation disasters nationwide.