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Judge orders release of McClanahan accident report

Family members win unredacted copy, witness statements, photographs
December 7, 2018

A federal judge has ordered the Delaware State Police to release its full, unredacted accident report of the 2016 helicopter fall that killed Lewes firefighter Tim McClanahan.

U.S. District Court Judge Colm F. Connolly issued the order Dec. 3 granting a motion by some members of McClanahan’s family for an unredacted copy of the accident report, witness statements, photographs, video and “any and all other documents or recorded evidence with regard to the July 11, 2016 incident involving decedent, Timothy J. McClanahan,” the order states.

McClanahan, 46, was a Lewes firefighter and a member of the Delaware Air Rescue Team that was conducting hoist training when McClanahan fell about 100-feet from the helicopter to his death. Members of his estate filed a lawsuit in July against safety harness manufacturer, Priority 1 Air Rescue Operations, seeking damages for negligence, breach of warranty, liability, wrongful death and pain and suffering.

Before filing the lawsuit, family members received a heavily redacted crime report from the Delaware State Police that blacked out witness information and other details from the 15-page report.

On Oct. 31, plaintiffs sent a subpoena to the Delaware State Police requesting the full, unredacted copy of the report and all documents and evidence pertaining to McClanahan's death. Delaware State Police refused to provide the report on Nov. 26 without a court order.

“It is plaintiff's reasonable belief that the redactions include names and addresses of potential witnesses to the incident. Such information is highly relevant to plaintiffs' prosecution of this accident,” plaintiffs request to U.S. District Court states.

The lawsuit specifically states that a hoist tether connector opened during the exercise, and McClanahan did not realize it was open when he leaned onto the helicopter skid and fell.

Priority 1 denied the connector or equipment were defective in a response filed with the court Nov. 16.

Delaware State Police could not be reached for comment on why the report was heavily redacted.