Featured Aviation Accident Cases
Verdict Against Winner Aviation Corporation
Attorneys Jamie Lebovitz and Ellen McCarthy from Nurenberg, Paris, Heller & McCarthy, with Arthur Alan Wolk and Cynthia Devers of The Wolk Law Firm, represented Dr. Marsico, a dermatologic surgeon, and Ms. Moran, a professional pilot, who were flying in Dr. Marsico’s private airplane when it developed engine problems and crashed shortly after takeoff on August 8, 2007.
As a result of the plane crash, both victims suffered disabling and disfiguring injuries, including third degree burns covering nearly 40 percent of their bodies.
Alaska Airlines Flight 261
Alaska Airlines Flight 261 was scheduled to fly on Jan. 31, 2000, from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to Seattle with a planned intermediate stop in San Francisco. The last few minutes of the flight saw an epic battle transpire as the pilots tried to keep control of the plane, a McDonnell Douglas MD-83.
While cruising at 31,000 feet off the California coast, the crew’s first reports of trouble came at almost 4:10 p.m. “Center, Alaska 261, we are, uh, in a dive here,” a crew member told controllers.
The problem stemmed from a jammed stabilizer, and the crew struggled to keep the plane from descending. At 4:15 p.m., the crew made contact with the Los Angeles International Airport, informing them of an attempt to make an emergency landing. “L.A., Alaska 261, uh, we’re with you, we’re at twenty-two-five, we have a jammed stabilizer and we’re maintaining altitude with difficulty, uh, but, uh, we can maintain altitude we think and our intention is to land at Los Angeles.”
But the crew fought to keep the nose of the plane from pitching down. At about 4:20 p.m., the pitch of the plane changed from 2.7 degrees to 70 degrees in less than 15 seconds, and within about a minute the plane hit the water.
All 88 people—five crew and 83 passengers—were killed and the plane destroyed.
The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the probable cause of the aviation accident was “a loss of airplane pitch control resulting from the in-flight failure of the horizontal stabilizer trim system jackscrew assembly’s acme nut threads. The thread failure was caused by excessive wear resulting from Alaska Airlines’ insufficient lubrication of the jackscrew assembly.”
The NTSB report added that Alaska Airlines’ extended lubrication interval and the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) approval of that extension, contributed to the accident, as did the absence on the McDonnell Douglas plane of a fail-safe mechanism to prevent the catastrophic effects of total acme nut thread loss.
In January 2001, a $45 million lawsuit was filed on behalf of the estate of Malcolm Branson of Ketchikan, Alaska, seeking damages from Alaska Airlines Inc., Alaska Air Group, McDonnell Douglas Corp., the Boeing Co., and several other manufacturers.
In February 2001, 13 families who lost loved ones in the crash filed a claim against the Federal Aviation Administration. The suit claimed that the FAA was negligent in its oversight of Alaska Airlines; failed to ensure the airline complied with maintenance regulations; and improperly certified the assembly of Flight 261’s jackscrew, the part of the plane’s tail that investigators believe likely caused the airline crash.
American Airlines/Corporate Airlines Flight 5966
On October 19, 2004, a Jetstream 32 twin-engine turboprop was scheduled to fly from St. Louis to Kirksville, Missouri. The plane carried 13 passengers and two crew members.
According to newspaper reports, “The last communication from the Jetstream 32 plane indicated it was on a normal approach to Kirksville and there was no mention of any problems. Clipping treetops, the plane crashed on its belly and burst into flames. Victims, including the pilot and copilot, were found inside the blazing fuselage, some of them still in their seats.” In all, 11 of the 13 passengers were fatally injured; two survivors received serious injuries.
One of the survivors, Dr. John Krogh, recounted the crash to CBS News and told how he and his assistant, Wendy Bonham, escaped the plane.
“The wing was gone, and I knew there was no way with a broken hip that I could do anything but pull myself out and let myself fall to the ground eight feet below,” Krogh said.
“I drug myself away and then I— the cries and the thoughts of those good people just came to my mind and I thought ‘oh, gosh, is there anything I can do?’ I looked back at the plane and I saw what I guess was Wendy Bonham, my secretary, my helper. I saw her come tumbling out of that same hole head first and when she landed down below, there was fire there. So that’s the last I saw of her at that time. I thought since she had fallen into the flames, that she was a goner.”
The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the probable cause of the accident “was the pilots’ failure to follow established procedures and properly conduct a non-precision instrument approach at night in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), including their descent below the minimum descent altitude (MDA) before required visual cues were available (which continued unmoderated until the airplane struck the trees), and their failure to adhere to the established division of duties between the flying and non-flying (monitoring) pilot.”
The NTSB report also said that contributing to the accident “was the pilots’ failure to make standard callouts and the current Federal Aviation Regulations that allow pilots to descend below the MDA into a region in which safe obstacle clearance is not assured based upon seeing only the airport approach lights. The pilots’ unprofessional behavior during the flight and their fatigue likely contributed to their degraded performance.”