Thursday, February 16, 2012

Another suit filed in air race crash: North America P-51D, N79111. Accident occurred September 16, 2011 in Reno, Nevada

A Washington state family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Reno Air Racing Association Inc. and others in the latest legal action stemming from a September crash that killed the pilot and 10 people on the ground while seriously injuring 70 other spectators.

The family of Gregory John Morcum, a spectator at the 2011 races, filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Reno. The complaint alleges that the racing association was negligent in promoting and holding an unsafe event.

It also alleges that the pilot and others modified the World War II vintage race plane “without due regard for safety and well being of pilots and spectators” and without knowing how the modified plane would perform at extremely high speed.

The lawsuit is the latest in a series of legal actions that race officials expect to reach at least 50 claims against the event and its participants. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the Sept. 16 crash, and its report on the cause could take a year to complete, officials said.

Officials of the Reno Air Racing Association on Thursday said they had not yet been served with the complaint and so couldn’t comment. Lawyers for the races and other defendants named in the current complaint and in previously filed lawsuits have said they will try to avoid going to trial in any of the cases and will instead try to settle cases out of court.

Also listed as defendants in the latest filing are the estate of pilot Jimmy Leward of Florida; Aero-Trans Corp. of Florida, owner of the P-51 Mustang; and Richard L. Shanholtzer Jr. of Texas, who worked on the “Galloping Ghost,” Leeward’s race plane.

Leeward was piloting the aircraft in the Unlimited Class race when he lost control of the aircraft and it slammed into the tarmac near the box seats. The lawsuit alleges that a “trim tab” on the plane’s tail failed, “placing excess G forces on the pilot as the plane pulled sharply upward,” rendering Leeward unconscious. The crash sent debris flying into the crowd.

“The spectators are supposedly seated outside of a ‘debris field.’ However, there is no practical way to judge where the debris field of a violent crash would start or stop,” the complaint alleges.

Previously, lawyers for both sides have said the crash lawsuits eventually might be consolidated into a single action.
NTSB Identification: WPR11MA454
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Friday, September 16, 2011 in Reno, NV
Aircraft: NORTH AMERICAN/AERO CLASSICS P-51D, registration: N79111
Injuries: 11 Fatal,66 Serious.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed.

On September 16, 2011, about 1626 Pacific daylight time, an experimental North America P-51D, N79111, impacted terrain following a loss of control while maneuvering at Reno Stead Airport, Reno, Nevada. The airplane was registered to Aero-Trans Corp, Ocala, Florida, and operated by the pilot as Race 177 under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. The commercial pilot sustained fatal injuries; the airplane sustained substantial damage. Casualties on the ground included 10 fatalities and 74 injured. As of the time of this preliminary report, eight of the injured remain hospitalized, some in critical condition. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident, and no flight plan had been filed for the local air race flight, which departed from Reno Stead Airport about 10 minutes before the accident.

The airplane was participating in the Reno National Championship Air Races in the last event of the day. The airplane had completed several laps and was in a steep left turn towards the home pylon when, according to photographic evidence, the airplane suddenly banked momentarily to the left before banking to the right, turning away from the race course, and pitching to a steep nose-high attitude. Witnesses reported and photographic evidence indicates that a piece of the airframe separated during these maneuvers. After roll and pitch variations, the airplane descended in an extremely nose-low attitude and collided with the ground in the box seat area near the center of the grandstand seating area.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration examined the wreckage on site. They documented the debris field and identified various components of the airplane’s control system and control surfaces. The wreckage was removed to a secure storage facility for detailed examination at a later date.

The airplane’s ground crew noted that the airplane had a telemetry system that broadcast data to a ground station as well as recorded it to a box on board the airplane. The crew provided the ground station telemetry data, which includes engine parameters and global positioning satellite system data to the NTSB for analysis. The onboard data box, which sustained crush damage, was sent to the NTSB’s Vehicle Recorder laboratory for examination. Investigators recovered pieces of a camera housing and multiple detached memory cards from the airplane’s onboard camera that were in the debris field. The memory cards and numerous still and video image recordings were also sent to the Vehicle Recorders laboratory for evaluation.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the Reno Air Race Association are parties to the investigation.

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