BROWNSVILLE, TX — A multimillion-dollar settlement has been reached with family members of a flight nurse and a paramedic who died last year when an emergency medical services helicopter crashed into the Laguna Madre, an Austin-area law firm announced.

The $14 million settlement resolves a lawsuit that family members of Raul Garcia, 40, and Michael Sanchez, 39, filed against Metro Aviation Inc., the company that operated the Eurocopter AS350, and South Texas Emergency Care Foundation, according to a statement released Friday by the Rosenthal & Watson, a law firm representing the families of Garcia and Sanchez.

The helicopter crashed in the Laguna Madre near South Padre Island the night of Feb. 5, 2008, killing Garcia, Sanchez and pilot Robert Goss, 55.

Investigators recovered the aircraft’s fuselage three days after the crash, about 2.5 miles west of the South Padre Island Convention Centre.

“No amount of money will ever fairly compensate the Garcia and Sanchez families for their devastating losses,” lead plaintiff’s attorney Marc Rosenthal said in his firm’s statement. “The families wanted full disclosure of the errors that resulted in the deaths of these local heroes and full accountability for the persons and companies responsible.”

The National Transportation Safety Board determined the probable cause as “the pilot’s failure to maintain aircraft control resulting in the helicopter impacting the water.

“Factors contributing to the accident were the pilot’s inadvertent flight into instrument meteorological conditions, and the low ceiling, dark night conditions, and the pilot’s lack of recent instrument flying experience.”

According to National Weather Service reports, sustained winds ranged from 25 to 30 mph on the night of the crash, with gusts up to 40 mph.

A fog bank over the lagoon near the landing zone also hampered visibility, according to the law firm.

Aviation expert Arthur B. Childers, of Aviation Safety and Analysis, testified in a deposition that the pilot experienced spatial disorientation after encountering low clouds near the landing area.

According to Rosenthal & Watson, Goss had little experience operating a helicopter using instruments as a means of navigation rather than sight, even though Metro Aviation had a policy requiring monthly instrument training sessions.

As a result of the crash, the law firm says, Metro Aviation implemented changes to enhance safety when conducting operations in the South Padre Island area.

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