Thursday, January 22, 2015

Schweizer G-164B, N8214S: Accident occurred May 09, 2013 in Biggs, California

NTSB Identification: WPR13LA223
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Thursday, May 09, 2013 in Biggs, CA
Probable Cause Approval Date: 03/13/2014
Aircraft: SCHWEIZER AIRCRAFT CORP G-164B, registration: N8214S
Injuries: 1 Fatal, 1 Uninjured.

NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The pilot reported that, while in the traffic pattern for landing, he was told by ground operations personnel that maintenance was being performed on the runway. The pilot scanned the area and saw trucks parked on the south end of the airstrip property but nothing on the runway. The pilot continued the landing, and taxied the airplane down the runway after landing. Although the pilot was performing s-turns for visibility purposes, he did not see service equipment on the runway, and the airplane collided with it and the operator of that equipment. The operator, who was fatally injured, was pushing a blower down the center of the runway and was wearing hearing protection at the time of the collision. It is likely that, due to the hearing protection and the sound of the blower, the operator did not hear the airplane. Postaccident examination of the airplane revealed minor damage to both the inlet scoop and the lower right wing lower surface. 

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
The pilot’s failure to adequately monitor the runway environment during taxi, which resulted in an on-ground collision.

On May 9, 2013 about 1630 Pacific daylight time, a Schweizer, G-164B, bi-wing, tail-wheel airplane, N8214S, collided with runway service equipment during the landing roll at the William's Ag Services airstrip, Biggs, California. The pilot was not injured; the operator of the service equipment was fatally injured. The airplane, which sustained minor damage, was registered to Clarence E. Williams, and operated by the pilot under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91, as a post-maintenance repositioning flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed. The flight originated from Yuba County Airport, Marysville, California about 1615.

The pilot reported in a written statement to the National Transportation Safety Board investigator-in-charge that he entered the traffic pattern on an angled downwind approach, then descended down to 500 feet above ground level. He announced his intentions to land and was told by Williams Ag Services operations that maintenance was being performed on the south end of the runway. The pilot scanned the area and saw trucks parked on the south end of the airstrip property. He further stated he observed nothing on the runway. The pilot landed mid-field on runway 18 and started performing S-turns due to restricted front view of the tailwheel airplane while taxiing. Soon thereafter, he felt the collision, immediately applied the brakes and came to a stop on the runway. The flight was uneventful, up until the collision. 

The operator of the service equipment was part of a maintenance crew repairing the runway. No other personnel were in the area at the time of the accident. The operator was pushing an 8 horsepower blower down the center of the runway and was wearing hearing protection. 

An examination of the airplane by a Federal Aviation Administration inspector revealed minor damage to both the inlet scoop and the lower right wing lower surface.

Willie Valdez Suarez
About a year and a half ago, 66-year-old Willie Suarez left his home state of Texas—and his wife and daughter—on business in Butte County. Suarez worked for Arrow Asphalt and he’d been hired to repave the landing strip at Williams Ag Services, a crop-dusting business in Biggs. But while he was working on the tarmac, a small plane came in for a landing and, the pilot apparently not seeing Suarez, struck him with a propeller, killing him instantly.

“His family misses him. His daughter misses her father; his widow misses her husband,” said Stewart Galbraith, a Chico attorney who’s representing the family in its lawsuit against Williams Ag Services. “It’s a difficult situation. [Plus], financially he was the breadwinner.”

Galbraith, who is working on the case along with fellow Penney & Associates attorney Robert Brannen, filed a wrongful death complaint with Butte County Superior Court last month alleging general negligence and premises liability on the part of Williams Ag Services. He’s representing Suarez’s daughter, 17-year-old Alexis Suarez; his widow, LaKeitha Hoskins; and sister, Linda Suarez. While nothing can ease the pain of losing a loved one, he said he hopes to win a settlement that will help ease the family’s financial strain.

“We’re looking for what’s fair and reasonable. I have no specific number in mind,” Galbraith said by phone. “It’ll depend on how people testify, and how the evidence comes in.”

The complaint explains the circumstances of Suarez’s death and the reasons for alleging Williams Ag Services is responsible.

According to the complaint, Suarez was working as a laborer for Arrow Asphalt Paving Co. in May 2013. His company was hired to repair and pave portions of the airstrip owned by Williams Ag Services and on the morning of May 9, Suarez was doing just that.

“Williams [Ag Services] chose to keep the airstrip active during the ground repair work with its aircraft using the airstrip throughout that day for takeoffs, landings, and taxiing,” the complaint reads. “As a legal result of its negligent acts and omissions, during the afternoon of May 9, 2013, an aircraft owned and operated by Williams [Ag Services] collided with [Suarez] while he was working on the subject airstrip, causing his instantaneous death.”

The Enterprise-Record covered the incident at the time and better explains the circumstances, as described by now-Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea. “The design of the crop-dusting plane puts its nose at an upward angle when it’s on the ground,” a story on May 11 reads. “That requires the pilot to zig-zag down the runway to be able to see ahead, Honea said. As the unidentified pilot was making a sweeping S-turn, the propeller hit Suarez …”

The E-R and KCRA both reported that family had told detectives Suarez was severely hearing impaired, which would limit his ability to hear the plane coming. Galbraith could not confirm this.

He said that cases like these typically last a few months. A phone message left with Williams Ag Services for comment was not returned by press time.

“I’ve worked on other wrongful death cases, and every case is unique,” Galbraith said. “This one is very unique. How often does an airplane hit a pedestrian?”

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