Man Crashed Snowmobile Into Black Hawk Helicopter, Now He’s Suing the Government for $9.5 Million

By: Julia Mehalko | Published: Mar 13, 2024

Jeff Smith, a Massachusetts man, is suing the government and asking for $9.5 million in damages after he crashed his snowmobile into a Black Hawk helicopter.

Smith was riding his snowmobile one evening in 2019 when he suddenly came upon the parked helicopter, which was on the trail in front of him. He could not avoid the crash and subsequently has been in and out of the hospital because of his severe injuries.

A 2019 Snowmobile Crash

In March of 2019, Jeff Smith was riding a snowmobile in Worthington, Massachusetts, and heading to visit his brother. Suddenly, in the dark, he realized that something was in front of him.

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A person on a snowmobile on snow around trees in the winter during the daytime.

Source: Dan Cutler/Unsplash

Though he hit the brakes on his snowmobile, he could not avoid directly hitting the rear tail of what he would later learn was a Black Hawk helicopter. Smith was flung into the snow and severely hurt.

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Eyewitness Testimonies

Eyewitness testimonies from the crew and people who were there at the scene also explain what happened this particular evening. They say Smith was thrown from his snowmobile. His vehicle went flying through the air, as well.

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A Black Hawk helicopter as it flies over in the sky.

Source: Military_Material/Pixabay

Many in the crew quickly jumped up to help Smith, as it was clear that he had become incredibly injured after clipping the helicopter’s rear tail.

One Crewmember’s Testimony

Benjamin Foster, one of the crewmembers, stated in his testimony before the court that he went to assist Smith after the crash.

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A person walking towards a snowmobile parked on a snowy hill in the daytime.

Source: Nate Johnston/Unsplash

“I found him face down in the snow,” Foster said. “We rolled him on his back and I might remember yelling or telling one of my crew chiefs to grab some trauma shears and space blankets from the aircraft. … I remember him gasping for breath.”

Smith Faced Grave Injuries

Smith was quickly airlifted to a trauma center. Doctors assessed him and found that he had a dozen broken ribs. He also had a punctured lung.

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A medical Black Hawk helicopter flying in the air amid a clear blue sky.

Source: Sven Piper/Unsplash

Smith faced severe internal bleeding alongside these major injuries. As a result, he stayed in the hospital for about a month before he was able to return home. However, he still faces many difficulties in his everyday life because of this crash.

Smith Is in and Out of Hospitals

“The last five years, there’s been surgery, recovery, surgery, recovery,” Smith explained. “Honestly, right now, it feels like I’m in a worst place than when I first had the surgeries in 2019.”

A hospital lobby seen in a blue, dim light, with a person behind a desk.

Source: Brandon Holmes/Unsplash

Smith also stated he has lost the use of his left arm. This, alongside respiratory issues he developed after the crash, has left him unable to work full-time.

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What Smith Is Asking For

Since this crash, Smith has filed a lawsuit against the government. Smith has stated that he needs money to cover his various medical bills, as well as make up for the wages he can no longer earn because of this accident.

A person riding a snowmobile down a snowy hill on a hazy winter day.

Source: Patrick T'Kindt/Unsplash

He wants to hold the military responsible for the situation and is asking they pay $9.5 million for all that has happened.

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Smith’s Argument

Smith’s lawyers are arguing that the Black Hawk helicopter shouldn’t have been parked on the trail that many snowmobilers use regularly. Though this area is also an airfield, it is rarely used.

A black road partly covered by snow, around a full valley of plants and snow, during a snowstorm.

Source: Michael Descharles/Unsplash

They are also arguing that the crew did not warn anybody that the helicopter would be on the trail. The crew also did not illuminate the helicopter to warn potential snowmobilers of its presence. Thanks to its camouflaged nature, it was not easily discernible.

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A Settlement Has Already Occurred

Smith’s legal team also filed a lawsuit against the owner of Albert Farms airfield, which is where this crash occurred. Smith has said the owner should not have allowed both the military and snowmobilers permission to use this trail at the same time.

A person drives a snowmobile on snow during a hazy, cloudy day, with trees in the background.

Source: Lotus Raphael/Unsplash

Smith and the airfield owners have settled already, though the settlement sum is undisclosed.

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The Military’s Response

The military is disputing this legal situation. The Black Hawk helicopter flew from New York’s Fort Drum to Massachusetts for night training. According to crew members, they landed on a federally approved airstrip and often conduct training in the area, or areas similar to it.

A group of Army military soldiers walking with backpacks on outside.

Source: Scandinavian Backlash/Unsplash

The government has thus far tried to dismiss the case, as they say they cannot be sued as a result of the Federal Tort Claims Act.

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The Government’s Argument

In court, the government has argued that the crew was not aware that they were landing on an active snowmobile trail. The Army has also investigated the incident, and they have claimed that illuminating the helicopter with chem lights possibly wouldn’t have stopped this accident.

An old seal of the U.S. Army against a black background.

Source: Levi Meir Clancy/Unsplash

“I found no negligence by the crew and believe they complied with all applicable regulations and laws,” the Army report stated. “Furthermore, given the particular circumstances of this incident, I am not convinced that using such chem lights or similar devices would have prevented the collision.”

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A U.S. Court Will Ultimately Decide

The government has also accused Smith of being drunk the night of the accident. Smith has countered this allegation by saying he had two beers while he was at his parent’s house earlier that evening.

A U.S. Black Hawk helicopter in the daytime taking off around green grass.

Source: Military_Material/Pixabay

As the case has yet to be dismissed, a judge in the U.S. District Court in Springfield will rule on it later this year.

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