The late Maj. Clayton O. Carpenter
The late Maj. Clayton O. Carpenter
U.S. Army

Bankruptcy May Save Bahram "Barry" Bordbar in Army Helicopter Crash Suit

Bankruptcy may prevent engineering services company owner Bahram Bordbar of Yorba Linda from being dragged into federal court over a lawsuit stemming from a U.S. Army MH-60M Blackhawk helicopter crash that killed a pilot and severely injured two other soldiers, according to the plaintiffs' lawyer.

This is the same Barry Bordbar who pleaded guilty in federal court recently to improperly and fraudulently receiving about $320,000 from an Army contract for repairs to AH-64-A Apache helicopters and who faces up to 13 years in federal prison at his scheduled Oct. 16 sentencing.

The 62-year-old, who has been a longtime generous campaign contributor mostly to Republicans—including Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton), Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) and Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona)—can not count on his savior being the National Republican Senatorial Committee, a PAC that aims to get Republicans elected to the Senate and which received $37,740 from Bordbar between 2002 and 2014. However, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court may be his guardian angel.

Bordbar's Gardena company Prototype Engineering and Manufacturing Inc. is being sued by the parents of an Army major who died and two soldiers who were severely injured in a Jan. 15, 2014, Blackhawk helicopter crash in Savannah, Georgia. The plaintiffs sought unspecified but no doubt substantial damages in the trial that was scheduled to begin in federal court in Los Angeles on Sept. 26.

However, "Prototype has indicated that they will be filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in the near future which will stay the trial," says Jim Brauchle, the South Carolina-based attorney for the plaintiffs.

Bordbar's counsel could not be reached for comment.

Army Capt. Clayton O. Carpenter, who was posthumously promoted to the rank of major, was the co-pilot of the MH-60M Blackhawk helicopter that also carried Chief Warrant Officer Jon Ternstorm, the pilot-in-command, and Army Specialist Cameron Witzler, the crew chief.

The suit brought by Paul and Colette Carpenter, the parents of the deceased, Jon and Maria Ternstrom and Cameron and Michelle Witzler accuses Prototype and Cubic Defense Applications Inc. of San Diego of negligence, strict product liability and breach of warranties implicit with the sale of the Blackhawk to the Army. The helicopter and its components failed to meet generally accepted performance and mandatory manufacturing and quality control standards, claim court documents.

Bordbar's company Prototype had "a maintenance contract with the United States Government" and "designed, manufactured, tested, inspected, assembled, maintained, distributed and warranted, among other things, the tail-rotor pitch change assembly, related systems and component parts that were installed on the Blackhawk at the time of the crash," according to the complaint. Cubic Defense Applications is a co-defendant because its Electronic Locator Transmitter (ELT) and related components were installed on the doomed Blackhawk.

Manufacturer Sikorsky Aircraft of Stratford, Connecticut, and Delaware limited partnership L-3 Communications Integrated Systems, which sold the helicopter and its component parts and systems to the Army, were originally named as co-defendants in the LA federal court lawsuit, but those cases were later moved to other jurisdictions,
Brauchle explained.

Carpenter from the front right seat and Ternstrom in the front left seat could control the Blackhawk at any time, while Witzler was in a crew seat. After "an uneventful training flight to St. Augustine, Florida," Carpenter was at the controls as the copter made an approach to Hunter Army Air Field in Savannah, where the co-pilot was assigned to the elite 3rd Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment also known as the Night Rangers. After Carpenter received clearance from air traffic control to land on Runway 28, "the Blackhawk suddenly and without warning, experienced interalia, a failure of the tail rotor pitch change assembly, and began to spin in a direction opposite to the direction of the main rotor blades," according to the lawsuit.

The co-pilot announced to the crew that there was a problem, and he "was unable to stop or slow the spin" when Ternstrom "immediately took control of the aircraft," read the court documents that also indicate both pilots "appropriately executed all prescribed emergency procedures for loss of tail rotor control to reduce the rate of spin." However, "the Blackhawk continued out of control and impacted the ground."

According to the complaint: "The Blackhawk entered an unrecoverable spin due to, among other things, the failure of the tail rotor pitch change assembly and related parts and components because Prototype, among other things, failed to install a necessary cotter pin during maintenance that it performed on the relevant components. Failure to install the cotter pin allowed, among other things, a spanner nut to back off, disconnecting all input connections from the tail rotor servo to the tail rotor pitch change shaft. The tail rotor and its related parts operate as an anti-torque device which counteracts the forces created by the spinning of the main rotor system and provides the pilot with control over the yaw movement of the aircraft, around its vertical axis, through manipulation of foot pedals in the cockpit."

As a result of the crash, the Army issued a high priority Safety of Flight notification and grounded all Sikorsky H-60 Series Aircraft until each could be visually inspected to ensure all cotter pins were properly installed. Incidentally, finding free public photos of the MH-60M Blackhawk to accompany this story was nearly impossible because parts of them are considered secret by the U.S. military. After one crashed during the operation that took out Osama bin Laden, the Department of Defense sought from Pakistan the tail-rotor assembly lest it fall into the wrong hands.

The lawsuit further contends that, upon impact, Cubic's ELT "failed to transmit an emergency signal to air traffic control and emergency personnel indicating that the Blackhawk had crashed. The failure to transmit a signal was due to a malfunction of the ELT and/or its related components and systems. Failure of the ELT to transmit caused a significant delay in the arrival of medical aid and assistance and exacerbation of the injuries that were suffered by" the Blackhawk occupants.

Bankruptcy May Save Bahram "Barry" Bordbar in Army Helicopter Crash SuitEXPAND
New York State Senate

That lost time was crucial, the court papers maintain, because while Carpenter suffered massive internal injuries in the crash, it is believed he "survived for some appreciable period of time" before passing away. He was only 30 yet a highly trained helicopter pilot and platoon leader with the Night Stalkers. During tours of Iraq and Afghanistan, he conducted dangerous attack and reconnaissance missions alongside Army Green Berets and Navy SEALs deep behind enemy lines under the cover of darkness. The Brooklyn, New York-born West Point graduate is now interred at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

"Clayton's goals were to serve God, his country, protect his men and take care of his mother and little brother," said Colette Carpenter when the lawsuit on behalf of her son was originally filed in September 2014. "To know that his life was snuffed out because someone was not paying attention to their work is too much for me to bear."

Witzler remained severely injured inside the wreckage, but although Ternstom was in equally bad shape, he managed to kick out the windshield, crawl out and call 9-1-1 to notify authorities of the specifics of the crash while reassuring his crew chief that help was on the way.

Both would receive "extensive medical care and attention," according to their complaint, which claims physical and psychological injuries they sustained would not be permanent had the ELT functioned properly and medical assistance arrived sooner.

"The Blackhawk’s failure to perform safely was a substantial factor in causing the death of Carpenter and damages to each plaintiff as described herein, and as such, Defendants, and each of them, are strictly liable," reads the complaint, which further alleges "the design, manufacture, maintenance and assembly of the Blackhawk were and are defective and dangerous" and that "the aircraft is not crashworthy and, in the event of a malfunction and impact with terrain, the aircraft did not and does not provide for survivability of the pilots and other occupants of the Blackhawk."

The wives of the crash survivors "sustained and incurred injuries and damages," have "been deprived of the full enjoyment of [their] marital states" and "suffered and continue to suffer loss of companionship, comfort,
solace, moral support, emotional support, love, felicity, affection, society, loss of physical assistance in the operation and maintenance of the home, loss of consortium, and loss of sexual relations" with their spouses, according to the complaint.

"January 15, 2014, was a preventable nightmare," Maria Ternstrom said when the suit was filed. "As a military spouse, I prepare myself emotionally, that my husband can be hurt at war, or during training. I do not know how I can, or will ever be able to, convince myself that defective equipment is also part of the job, and I shouldn't have to. Our soldiers deserve functioning equipment, and military families deserve that small piece of mind."

The Ternstroms and Witzlers each seek general and special damages and reimbursements for costs incurred in bringing in the court action. Carpenter's estate wants damages for: past and future loss of earnings; pre-death fright, terror, pain and suffering; the full value of Carpenter's life; personal property; funeral and burial expenses; legal expenses; and interest incurred. All of the plaintiffs also ask for anything else the court deems "just and proper."

As the Weekly reported earlier this month, Bordbar pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Aug. 1 to a federal charge of making false statements involving aircraft, admitting that his fraudulent conduct led to him improperly receiving approximately $320,000 from the Army.

Prototype had a contract to overhaul and repair linear actuators that were used on the Army’s AH-64-A Apache helicopter, but that pact did not authorize the company to repair DC motors used in the linear actuators unless it received specific authorization from the military branch. According to a plea agreement filed with the court, Prototype used an outside contractor to repair 105 DC motors without authorization, and those repaired motors were installed into overhauled linear actuators that were delivered to the Army.

Bordbar also pleaded guilty to one count of aiding and abetting in the filing of a false tax return related to an employee’s tax return. He paid the employee $100,000 that he said was a gift and that he would pay the taxes, so the recipient did not report the money as income on a federal tax return. Bordbar has agreed to pay the Internal Revenue Service more than $28,000 to pay the employee’s back taxes.

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