Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Hope College student's family to settle $750,000 lawsuit against United States in fatal plane crash: Cessna 172N Skyhawk, N8405E, Accident occurred January 17, 2010 in Holland, Michigan


GRAND RAPIDS, MI – The family of one of the Hope College students killed in a 2010 plane crash has agreed to settle its lawsuit against the federal government for $750,000, records show.

The settlement awaits review by a judge next month.

Peter Biagioni filed suit against the government after his daughter, Emma Biagioni, died with pilot David Otai in the Jan. 17, 2010, crash in Allegan County’s Manlius Township.

The rented Cessna crashed shortly after it left Tulip City Air Service, which is now West Michigan Regional Airport.

Emma Biagioni was a 20-year-old resident of St. Charles, Ill., while Otai, 23, came from Kenya.

Peter Biagioni blamed air-traffic controllers in Muskegon for failing to help Otai when he radioed he was having trouble in heavy fog.

The lawsuit said Otai called for assistance within 15 minutes of take-off. His first call went unanswered because the controller was tied up with another duty, but seconds later, the controller responded.

Otai told her he was “’caught in some fog and and would like vectors [radar directions] to the runway eight at Tulip City [airport],’” attorney Mark Schwartz wrote in the lawsuit.

The controller did not understand what the pilot said. She did not ask him to repeat his call. Then, she advised the pilot to contact the flight service station on a certain frequency before she realized she relayed the wrong frequency, the lawsuit said.

A second controller then provided another wrong frequency. The pilot called Muskegon Approach again, and told them he could not reach anyone, the lawsuit said.

The pilot then “reiterated what he told Defendant’s air traffic controller on his first call-up transmission - that he was caught in fog and wanted radar vectors to Tulip City Airport.” The pilot said he was flying under visual flight rules, but that he was having an emergency, the lawsuit said.

Soon, the plane crashed into a farm field 4 miles south of Holland.

The lawsuit said that proper response by the controller could have resulted in the plane being identified by radar and climbing, and re-directed to an airport where visibility was better.

The U.S. said the air-traffic controllers acted with “due care,” and were not the cause of the crash.

“Also, the United States contends that the pilot caused the accident by negligently discharging his duties as pilot-in-command by, inter alia, illegally taking off without an instrument flight plan in poor weather, known as instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), and other violations of the Federal Aviation Regulations,” according to a status report.

Otai was a sophomore at Hope College. He planned to fly missionary planes in Africa. Biagioni, a junior, was a political science major.

The Biagioni family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in U.S. District Court in November. The parents will receive the bulk of the funds that will be shared with their daughter’s brother, sister and grandfather.

After expenses, the net recovery will be $718,304.99. Attorneys representing the family will receive 25 percent as a contingency fee.

Story and Photos:  http://www.mlive.com

NTSB Identification: CEN10FA101
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, January 17, 2010 in Holland, MI
Probable Cause Approval Date: 01/07/2011
Aircraft: CESSNA 172, registration: N8405E
Injuries: 2 Fatal.

NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The pilot rented the airplane for most of the day to give rides to friends and had fueled it to capacity. He told a lineman that he planned to takeoff and, if necessary, would file an instrument-flight-rules flight plan and return to the airport. Witnesses saw the airplane take off and disappear into the overcast. Shortly thereafter, they heard an airplane make four passes over the airport. The sound became progressively louder but they could not see the airplane. On the fifth pass, the airplane was seen approximately 50 feet above the ground and it barely cleared a stand of trees. Recorded ATC transscripts revealed that the pilot contacted approach control and told the controller that he was caught in heavy fog and wanted vectors back to the airport. The airplane crashed shortly thereafter in a snow-covered field.

An examination of the airplane showed impact damage consistent with having descended to the ground in an uncontrolled spin. An examination of the airplane's systems showed no anomalies.

Although the pilot was instrument rated, he had not flown with instruments since receiving his rating 2 years ago. He had logged 1.8 hours in actual instrument meteorological conditions, 50.8 in simulated IMC, and 6.7 hours in a flight simulator. Ceiling and visibility at the time of the accident was below landing minimums and was recorded as 200 feet overcast and 3/4-mile in mist. The RNAV (GPS) RWY 8 approach chart was found on the pilot’s lap. Although the airplane was IFR certified, it was not RNAV or GPS equipped. Toxicology results indicated the presence of propoxyphene, a prescription narcotic medication. The concentration present was consistent with use at a time outside of 24 hours prior to the accident and would not have caused impairment. Cellular telephone records showed that the pilot had engaged in calls and text message conversations with the passenger the night before the accident. Starting at 6:00 P.M. the night before the accident, the pilot received or made calls or text messages every hour, through midnight, until 3:12 A.M. In one conversation, the passenger told the pilot that he would be in good flying shape for the next day, and the pilot replied that he needed to get 4 hours of rest before he flew. The final outgoing call to the passenger was placed at 7:59 A.M. on the day of the accident.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:

The pilot's decision to take off in known instrument meteorological conditions without instrument currency or recent instrument experience, which led to spatial disorientation resulting in an inadvertent spin. Contributing to the accident was the pilot's lack of adequate rest prior to the flight.