Saturday, February 28, 2015

Concerns about air traffic safety are heightened in developing College Park, Maryland

Kurt Schneckenburger, who flies his plane out of the College Park Airport about once a week, says the construction of tall buildings near the end of the runway would create safety issues. “If you keep adding buildings out there, you’ll build a wall.” 
(Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post

Construction of tall buildings is encroaching on the airspace of historic College Park Airport, forcing pilots to adjust landing and takeoff strategies and raising concerns among some in this Maryland community that continued development could threaten the viability of a small airpark that was used by the Wright brothers and is home to many aviation firsts.

Pilots already navigate around a 16-story student apartment complex just less than a mile away on a straight shot from the runway. But plans to add more and taller buildings have those who regularly use the airport worried about maintaining its historic feel as well as safety.

“If you keep adding buildings out there, you’ll build a wall,” said Kurt Schneckenburger, who first flew from College Park in 1986, when Metrorail did not run near the edge of the runway and car dealerships and one-story shops made up most of the city’s commercial district.

The December tragedy in which a private jet crashed into a four-bedroom home near the Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg, killing six people, also has pushed the debate over density and building heights to the forefront.

“You see all this construction happening . . . and that’s fine. We just don’t want tall buildings at the end of the runway,” said ­Schneckenburger, 57, who flies his 1972 Piper PA-28 Cherokee about once a week. “This is a safety issue.”

That’s why a recent proposal for a 13-story luxury hotel less than a mile from the airport had Schneckenburger and others concerned.

The Southern Management hotel project became caught up in the debate late last year when it sought approval from the Prince George’s County planning board. The Federal Aviation Administration warned that the hotel would be a potential hazard to air navigation, prompting the developer to drop three floors from its design and raising the project’s $115 million cost by $5 million.

Although the revised project appears to comply with FAA regulations, it has ignited demands for better enforcement of building height limits around the 66-acre airport, nestled between Lake Artemesia and an industrial area adjacent to the College Park Metro station, off Paint Branch Parkway.

“This seems to be the tip of the iceberg with more and more obstructions being proposed without much consideration to the airport,” Kyle Lowe said in an e-mail to the FAA in October. Lowe is a division chief in the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation, which oversees the airport.

A University of Maryland dormitory, built last year, encroaches on about seven feet of airspace, and a bioengineering building now under construction encroaches on about four feet, according to the FAA.

The FAA sets height restrictions based on a structure’s proximity to an airport and flight paths. State and local governments also set height guidelines for buildings near airports.

But rulings by the FAA and state agencies — in this case, the Maryland Aviation Administration — serve only as advisories. Local zoning authorities determine whether to allow building permits. Projects built on U-Md. property are not required to go through the local zoning process.

And even in cases where projects exceed local restrictions, developers can get around the limits by requesting variances.

U-Md. officials say they do not take the FAA’s and MAA’s recommendations lightly. In the case of the Prince Frederick Hall dorm built last year, the university added special markings and lighting to mitigate the potential hazard. And it plans to do the same with the bioengineering building, which the university says is actually shorter and farther from the airport than the University View complex, officials said.

“My understanding is that the four feet is not going to pose any problems,” university spokesman Brian Ullman said. “Believe it or not, the issue might be addressed simply by adding some lighting.”

Effects of height limits

Some experts say that height limits hamper developers’ ability to get the most out of their investments. Critics say the restrictions end up costing communities millions in tax revenue — and, ultimately, billions in economic growth. The wait for an FAA review alone can be costly and can disrupt a project’s timeline.

John Cohan, director of marketing for Southern Management, said the company had not anticipated having to deal with airport restrictions when it began pursuing its hotel project as part of a deal with U-Md. When it was notified about the 35-foot airspace intrusion in November, it was already in the last step of local approvals. The company was ready to proceed with construction — in fact, it received a permit last month to begin site preparation work.

“Instead of pushing back and trying to fight for the original plan, we redesigned it,” Cohan said. That process has already set the project’s timeline back a few months, threatening the plans for a 2016 opening, he said. “It’s been a significant cost — in the millions. A significant part of that is in the lost time.”

The 16-story University View apartment complex, built in 2005, is an example of what can happen if height restrictions aren’t enforced, some say. The building, the tallest in College Park, was determined to be an obstruction by aviation standards, but because it was planned before the county passed airport zoning regulations in 2002, the project moved through the approval process without much scrutiny.

Today, the complex juts out from a buffer of woods, visible from the front of the airport’s runway. Some pilots say that when they pass over the complex on final approach, they come so close to the building that they can wave at people on the roof.

“If you speak with the pilots, they say, ‘We have to work around that building, and it is not ideal.’ And the more buildings that go up like that, even if they are not that tall, but if they penetrate the airspace, then it is a problem for them,” said Terry Schum, College Park’s planning director.

Encroachment on airspace at general aviation airports is not a new problem, nor is the rapid growth that has swallowed up the communities surrounding small, semirural airparks across the United States.

These airports are viewed not only as part of an extensive network, but also as important economic and societal contributors to their communities. In some cases, they support medical, emergency and law enforcement flights and provide access to remote communities.

But most were built long before the communities that surround them and now are struggling to balance the needs of both.

In Orlando, for example, officials studying why the city does not have a distinctive skyline are faced with the reality that its downtown is too close to Orlando Executive Airport. Several projects that would have helped define the skyline, including plans for a nearly 500-foot tower, have been scrapped over the years.

The problem in places such as College Park, some pilots and airport officials say, is that airports have been excluded from the planning process and development has taken off without much consideration given to their operations. In some cases, development pressures have played a role in the closure of small airfields around the United States.

“I understand the developers’ concerns that if they can’t get to a certain height, they can’t get a good return on their investment. At the same time, having taller buildings around the airport really does make it more difficult for pilots to get in and out of the airport,” said John Collins, manager of airport policy at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. The group, which has about 370,000 members, hears about airport encroachment issues a couple of times a week, he said.

In College Park, the airport’s historical significance may be the reason it’s been able to survive. Founded in 1909, the facility is home to many aviation firsts: It saw the first female airplane passenger, the first U.S. helicopter flights and it was the terminus for the first airmail routes. The Wright brothers trained the country’s first military pilots there.

“That’s not something to take lightly,” said Andrea Cochrane Tracey, director of the College Park Aviation Museum, which is on airport property and displays aircraft and artifacts from the airfield’s history, which covers more than a century.

The county-owned airpark is building a $4.5 million, 13,000-square-foot terminal that will be connected to the museum.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2011, terrorist attacks, the airport lost business — activity fell from about 18,000 flight operations a year and nearly 100 aircraft based there to about 4,122 flight operations a year and 47 aircraft. But airport officials say the potential for growth is good given the proximity to the District and access to Metro, both of which make the airport attractive for business travelers, including members of Congress.

Ensuring the right development around the facility is key to making that happen, officials say. That’s why the height debate, Lowe said, is not about a particular project but ensuring that current and future development take those restrictions seriously.

“We are not trying to get in the way of economic development,” Lowe said. “We are trying to make sure that we are able to balance the needs of the development community with the airport operations. . . . We want to make sure that we have an airport that is viable and that is safe for the pilots and the public.”

The city says that’s also its goal. Long-term plans for the Route 1 corridor recognize the airport’s value and call for future development to respect the height restrictions around the airfield and to ensure it does not threaten its continued existence, officials said.

But finding a balance has turned out to be more challenging as the city focuses on drawing development to its downtown and the College Park Metro station, which is almost directly across from the airfield. The county, which sets zoning policy, has a new plan supporting buildings of up to 12 stories around the College Park Metro. The city has concerns, saying eight stories would be adequate given the Metro station’s proximity to the airport.

“There is plenty of development density that you can get without having 10-story buildings,” Schum said. “You build compactly, you build mid-rise buildings or townhouses, and that is appropriate around the Metro station. We don’t need towers to get the density.”

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Spat, intrigue over $4.5 million jet leads to arrest of Venezuelan businessman

MIAMI —   A Gulfstream jet currently parked at Miami Executive Airport appears to boast a colorful past: It was reputedly once owned by the bin Laden family of Saudi Arabia.

The sleek aircraft is now at the heart of another tale of international intrigue  ... a well-heeled fugitive from Venezuela is now under arrest in Miami accused of stealing the $4.5 million jet from a former business partner.

The suspect is Jose Avelino Goncalves of Doral, who claims he is seeking political asylum in the United States. The 49-year-old made his first appearance in a Miami-Dade court Friday, charged with a host of felony white-collar crimes, including organized scheme to defraud and grand theft.

Meanwhile, Miami-Dade police have taken control of the 22-seat, two-engine jet parked at the West Kendall airport.

"This is simply a misunderstanding between two business associates," David Fernandez, Goncalves' defense attorney, told the court on Friday. "There is nothing nefarious here."

A Miami-Dade judge nevertheless left intact a $4.5 million bond.

"He can flee the country," said Miami-Dade prosecutor Manolo Reboso.

The victim is businessman Luis Enrique Nunez-Villanueva, a former slot-machine owner who used to partner with Goncalves and his brother in Venezuela in the casino business.

Nunez-Villanueva's team of lawyers - Frank Quesada, John Priovolos and Carl Kakfa - watched from court as prosecutors explained the charges to the judge.

The two businessmen are suing each other in Miami-Dade court. Goncalves claims Nunez-Villanueva pocketed $828,129 meant to buy a helicopter. Nunez-Villanueva denies the allegations and demands his money for the jet.

Over the years, the plane has had a series of owners. According to the aviation database, the jet was owned by Texas businessman James Bath. He was a former business associate of George W. Bush, who later became president.

According to numerous books, Bath was also affiliated with the wealthy bin Laden oil family whose most notorious member, Osama, masterminded the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The plane was later sold to the bin Ladens in 1980, changing owners and registration numbers several times after that. Ultimately, records show, Nunez-Villanueva bought the plane in 2009.

Because foreigners cannot legally own planes in the United States, he created a Delaware company to be the owner, which is a common business practice. Then in October 2010, court records show, Nunez-Villanueva agreed to sell the plane to Goncalves for $4.5 million.

Gonzcalves and his brother, Domingo Goncalves, ran gaming parlors throughout Venezeula. According to Venezuelan news accounts, Domingo was arrested several years ago for running illegal gambling operations and also helped fund opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles in 2012.

His brother, Jose Goncalves, fled to Miami. Prosecutors confirmed that the international police agency Interpol lists a "red notice" for him - meaning, he is wanted for arrest in Venezuela. He is also a citizen of Portugal.

"Neither one of those countries is safe for him," Fernandez, his attorney, told the judge Friday. "He's in this country because he's been politically persecuted in another country."

The deal between Goncalves and Nunez-Villanueva called for an upfront payment of $1.5 million, and monthly payments of $500,000 afterward.

But Miami-Dade detectives say Goncalves paid only $829,196, and never made another payment. In the following months, Goncalves without Nunez-Villanueva's permission transferred the title of the plane three times.

A business associate, Miguel Rodriguez-Fambona, told detectives that he agreed to create a company in his name to hold ownership of the plane for Goncalves. The reason: Goncalves, wanted in Venezuela, did not want any assets in his names, according to the warrant.

Rodriguez-Fambona, the owner of CR Aviation at the small airport, never charged his buddy anything to store the plane in his hangar.

Last year, Goncalves transferred the title of the plane to a Venezuelan company called Feed Mix Industries - run by a well-known pilot named Andres Guillermo Schrocci Mendoza.

The plane was transferred to one more company last year. Prosecutors said Goncalves, in trying to hide his money, also transferred properties and companies into the names of his wife and children.

Original article can be found at:

Incident occurred February 28, 2015 at Dane County Regional Airport (KMSN), Madison, Wisconsin

MADISON (WKOW) -- A general aviation plane suffered a landing gear failure upon touchdown at Dane County Regional Airport late Saturday morning. 

The two-engine turbo prop Cessna Conquest was manned by a single pilot, when the front nose gear collapsed while landing on an auxiliary runway shortly before noon.

Airport officials say the pilot alerted air traffic control of a possible landing gear problem at 11:34 AM, while approaching the airport.  The primary runway remained open during the incident.

No major injuries were reported.  The Madison Fire Department transported the pilot to a local hospital, on a precautionary basis. 

To learn more about the Cessna Conquest aircraft, please click here.

Original article can be found at:

Letter: Airport rent hikes shouldn’t fly • Santa Monica Municipal (KSMO), California


I find it quite disturbing that we have an airport commission that is anti-airport and would have the gall to suggest raising the rents on the people that conduct all kinds of business there, especially in these tough times.

They praise the diversity of cultural arts in Santa Monica yet are quite the hypocrites, encouraging the strangulation of the art community, theater arts group, restaurants and small businesses that inhabit the Santa Monica airport.

The fact is that none of the four airport commissioners appointed by the Santa Monica City Council are pilots, know how an airplane functions or even have any flying experience except for traveling in an aircraft.

It is interesting that David Goddard and Steve Marks, who both live in the Sunset Park area, have real estate licenses and want the airport closed down. Postulating this thought, it’s easy to see what they would gain by this using their positions as airport commissioners. A conflict of interest indeed.

Years ago, we had a no-jets policy enforced with large, stenciled white letters on the East-West 23 runway. Mysteriously, these letters were removed and jets were allowed back in which overpriced landing, takeoff and storage fees were charged and collected by the city. One has to ask the question: Who were the City Council members that allowed this, and what terms did they hold?

As for the people who complain about the airport and who bought homes in the area, you knew that there was an airport there. As a matter of fact, it’s been there since 1917.

So, let me get this straight: You purchase a home where you know there’s an airport, yet you now have myriad complaints because the airport is there — fully aware when you bought your home it was an airport. Even Dr. Doolittle’s pushmi-pullyu would have a hard time with this one.

Whitney Scott Bain
Santa Monica

- Article and comments:

New jet fuel truck, aircraft hangars taking wing at Ottawa Municipal Airport (KOWI), Kansas

Courtesy of the City of Ottawa
A jet fuel truck (pictured in background) is a recent addition to the Ottawa Municipal Airport, 2178 Montana Road. The City of Ottawa purchased the truck for $16,000 from the City of Newton. Adding Jet A fuel should attract more planes to the airport and increase revenues, city officials said.

A readily available Jet A fuel supply and the promise of more storage space for private aircraft are just some of the improvements taking flight at Ottawa Municipal Airport this year.

Did you know?

Established in: Mid-1940s (construction began in 1944 and was completed after the conclusion of World War II)

Fixed-base operator: OWI Aviation LLC, a management company owned by Hawkeye Helicopter LLC, 401 S. Main St., Ottawa

Address: 2178 Montana Road, three miles southeast of Ottawa

Story and photo:

Kenneth B. Spindler

Kenneth B. Spindler, 76, of Williamstown, W.Va., died Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, at the VA Medical Center in Clarksburg, W.Va.

He was born March 19, 1938, in Marietta to Kenneth and Marcina Phares Spindler.

Kenneth was a graduate of Marietta High School and attended Marietta College. He was a U.S. Navy veteran of Vietnam, having served aboard the USS Kitty Hawk. He had worked as laboratory analyst at both Union Carbide Plastics and Shell Chemicals. He had been an ATP corporate pilot and a certified flight instructor for Mountainair and Rambar Aviation, as well as being employed as a pilot for Pizza People in Marietta.

In retirement, Ken had been a driving instructor for AAA and a volunteer mission pilot for the Civil Air Patrol. 

Read more here:

Friday, February 27, 2015

Air traffic controllers honored for guiding plane to safety: Beechcraft 58 Baron, N9206Q, incident occurred February 13, 2014 at J. Douglas Bake Memorial Airport (KOCQ), Oconto, Wisconsin

Three air traffic controllers from Austin Straubel Airport will be honored soon for their help in guiding a plane to safety last February.

ASHWAUBENON – You may remember a small plane’s rough landing from February of last year.

The pilot was forced to land at an Oconto County airport after running into trouble. Thankfully, all on board survived.

Now the men who helped guide that plane to safety are being honored.

They’ll head to Las Vegas next week for recognition from the National Association of Air Traffic Controllers. But first, they told their story to FOX 11’s Kelly Schlicht.

The late shift on Thursday, February 13, 2014 began like any other for air traffic controllers at Austin Straubel Airport.

“It was around four or five o’clock. The plane was coming from Rochester, Minn., and it was scheduled to land in Menominee,” said Justin Krenke, an air traffic controller.

Krenke was on a radio transmission with the pilot of this plane, John Laws, when the aircraft ran into trouble.

“Some instruments basically failed. He knew they wouldn’t be able to make it into Menominee so he said I need to get out of this icing. It just kept accumulating ice and couldn’t get rid of the ice on the airplane.

Krenke tried to guide the pilot to a safety.

“If you need to descended below 2500 and declare an emergency we can try to get you on an approach to Oconto,” said Krenke on the air traffic control recording.

“Compassion Flight 06Q, we are declaring an emergency,” said the pilot.

Fellow air traffic controller Adam Helm stepped in to help.

“As soon as we knew that the airplane was going to land in Oconto, we got on the phone and asked them to get crash, fire rescue, fire trucks out there,” said Helm.

Meanwhile, their coworker Mike Osterander took over all other direction in the tower.

“When this happened, I just tried to take as much of the other things to do off of him so he could concentrate on it,” said Osterander.

But as the pilot neared Oconto, he couldn’t land.

“I see it on my right side, I didn’t land. It looks like they’re plowing,” said the pilot.

“I lost radar contact and lost communication with him, and Adam was on the phone with some Oconto fire and rescue and also the county saying get the plows off the runway this is an emergency. He came around and circled and crashed, but everyone survived. So, it was a good outcome,” said Krenke.

Now the three men will be honored by their industry for keeping their cool.

“You feel like you’re a part of the plane and the person flying it, even though I’m sitting in a room looking at a screen. It was pretty scary. I don’t want to have to do it again,” said Krenke.

But the three insist they were just doing their jobs, helping keep the skies and all who fly them safe.

Story and photo:

AEG report warns rival Inglewood NFL stadium presents terrorist threat

In a bold move to undercut an NFL stadium at Hollywood Park, the sports and entertainment firm AEG commissioned a study by former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge that found the Inglewood project would be a tempting target for terrorists and should not be built.

AEG has been pursuing its own NFL stadium next to Staples Center for several years and is in direct competition with Inglewood, whose plan was approved Tuesday by that city's government.

In a 14-page report, Ridge suggests that because the Inglewood stadium proposed by St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke would lie within three to four miles of Los Angeles International Airport and beneath the flight path of airliners, terrorists might try to shoot down a plane or crash one into the stadium, scenarios Ridge described as "a terrorist event 'twofer.' "

Ridge said the Inglewood stadium, part of a planned retail, office and residential development at the now-defunct Hollywood Park, would have "a significant risk profile with the potential to produce consequences that will not only the impact the airport and region, but global interests."

In contrast to Ridge's warnings, city officials as well as aviation experts have said a stadium at the Hollywood Park site is not a safety concern. The Federal Aviation Administration, in environmental impact reports, has twice given its blessing to proposed stadiums in Inglewood.

The NFL has several stadiums — including Santa Clara and East Rutherford, N.J. — in close proximity to major airports. No stadium in the U.S. has been the subject of a terrorist attack.

The league, which is aware of the report, did not offer an opinion on the Inglewood site.

"We feel that the best approach is to look at these things with an independent eye," said Eric Grubman, NFL senior vice president and the league's point man on the L.A. market. "You should assume the NFL has its own experts hired and at work to assess any potential NFL site, in any city, regarding these matters. And it is that advice that we will rely on."

Marc Ganis, a consultant who has worked on projects involving more than two-thirds of NFL teams, reviewed the document and said it "does not have any definitive data that would argue against going forward."

It is not known how widely AEG distributed the report. The Times obtained it from a public relations firm representing Ridge, who was not made available for comment Friday.

In the December document, Ridge invoked al-Qaeda, included pictures of two terrorist bomb-makers and mentioned the 2013 shooting of a Transportation Security Administration officer at LAX.

The former Pennsylvania governor, now a security consultant, said in the report that if NFL, state and local leaders proceed with the Inglewood plan, they "must be willing to accept the significant risk and the possible consequences …. This should give both public and private leaders in the area some pause."

This week, the Inglewood City Council voted unanimously to move forward with the stadium project that is part of a 298-acre mixed-used development. While developers, which include Kroenke, pledge to start construction by December on a stadium that could cost a record $1.86 billion, no NFL team has yet filed for relocation.

In addition to the stadium, the proposed sports and entertainment district on the Hollywood Park site in Inglewood would compete with restaurants and hotels at AEG's LA Live.

Asked about the report, AEG said "we have been working diligently and in good faith … to advance NFL discussions while also exploring plans for other development alternatives around the LA Live campus." AEG's deal with L.A. for the downtown stadium dubbed Farmers Field, already extended once, expires April 17.

A spokesman for the Hollywood Park project declined to comment Friday.

The Inglewood stadium's developers have retained a consultant to advise them on complying with FAA regulations. The playing field will sit 100 feet below ground level to meet FAA rules. At its highest point, the covered stadium will be about 175 feet above ground, or 290 feet above sea level.

"It was concluded that no FAA standards would be exceeded so long as no portion of any structure in the designated location exceeds an elevation of 290 feet above … sea level," the Inglewood report said.

That's eight feet shorter than a stadium plan that received a "no hazard" determination from the FAA in 1995, according to Inglewood's environmental review, and within guidelines Los Angeles County's Airport Land Use Commission approved for the Hollywood Park plan in 2009.

That report noted Levi's Stadium, the new home of the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, sits less than three miles from San Jose International Airport. Unlike the proposed Inglewood site, that stadium is not on the main approach route.

"The FAA conducts thorough technical reviews of all construction near airports to determine if they pose a hazard to aircraft or navigation aides," said Ian Gregor, an FAA spokesman based in Los Angeles. "In this case, there is nothing for us to comment on because no one has presented us with a formal plan."

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Record Jury Award Against Airplane Mechanic Faride Khalaf • Cessna 182S Skylane, Sierra Madre Flying Corp., N23750

by Mike Danko 

Dr. Ken Gottlieb’s Cessna 182 took off from Napa Airport with only Dr. Gottlieb aboard. As the Cessna climbed from the runway, it turned in the wrong direction. It collided with high terrain just north of the airport. Dr. Gottlieb was killed on impact. His body was ejected and the aircraft exploded and burned.

The NTSB ruled the crash was caused by pilot error, finding that Gottlieb encountered poor weather, became confused, and failed to follow the correct instrument departure procedure.

The family asked us to investigate. We learned that Gottlieb’s instructor had flown with Gottlieb a few days before the crash. The instructor found Gottlieb (pictured right) to be well-versed in the Napa departure procedure and otherwise meticulous in his flying. The instructor felt it unlikely that Gottlieb would become confused and turn in the wrong direction. As far as the instructor was concerned, whatever caused the crash was “out of Ken’s control.”

Faride Khalaf (pictured below) was the plane's mechanic.  We learned that Khalaf began working on general aviation aircraft only after he was fired from United Airlines. We uncovered evidence that Khalaf had performed maintenance on Gottlieb's aircraft without properly recording the work in the aircraft’s logs. In fact, Khalaf performed undocumented repairs on the pilot’s seat just a few weeks before the crash.

We examined what little remained of the wreckage and found two things that were unusual. First, we saw evidence that, at the moment of impact, the pilot seat was in the full aft position. Second, the pilot’s seat belt was unbuckled.

Based on their forensic work, our experts testified that as Gottlieb climbed away from the runway, his seat suddenly and unexpectedly slid to its full aft position and jammed. Gottlieb’s hands and feet could not reach the aircraft’s controls and the aircraft flew off course, out of control. Gottlieb unbuckled his seat belt so that he could scoot on his knees up to the aircraft’s control wheel.  But before Dr. Gottlieb could regain control of the aircraft, it crashed into the hillside.

The pilot seat slid back and jammed because Khalaf’s undocumented work was improperly performed.  He charged the aircraft owners for new seat parts, but did not install them. Instead, he illegally jury-rigged the existing seat release mechanism. The faulty repair held up for a while, but failed just as Gottlieb took off, causing the seat to slide back and jam in place.

Making matters worse, we found emails from Khalaf on Gottlieb’s hard drive. Gottlieb had asked Khalaf to perform an annual inspection of the aircraft just days before the crash.   Khalaf's emails confirmed that he had in fact "finished with the annual" and that the plane was "good to go."  Based on Khalaf's confirmation that the plane was safe to fly, Gottlieb departed on his flight from Napa. But, in fact, Khalaf never inspected the plane at all. All he did was change the oil, to make it appear as though he had serviced the aircraft when in fact he had not.  Had Khalaf performed the inspection, he might have learned that his previous improper repairs were about to fail.

Earlier this afternoon, the jury entered its verdict against Khalaf for $13,360,000. The verdict is believed to be a record amount in California for the death of someone over age 65.

Khalaf's attorney quit the case one year before the trial was set to begin. Khalaf elected to represent himself during the 7 day trial. Adbi Anvari of Air West Aircraft Engines testified as Khalaf's expert.  Khalaf called Dr. John Kane to testify as to medical issues, but the judge ruled the doctor to be unqualified and refused to allow him to take the stand.

Dr. Gottlieb was a prominent San Francisco forensic psychiatrist.  He left his wife Gale, daughter Tamar, and son, Mike who is a lawyer and special assistant to President Obama.

Before trial, Gottlieb's family offered to drop the suit entirely if Khalaf agreed to surrender his mechanic’s license. Khalaf refused.  That means despite the verdict, Khalaf is still legally entitled to work on aircraft and return them to service.

Article, comments and photos:


NTSB Identification: WPR09FA385
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Wednesday, August 05, 2009 in Napa, CA
Probable Cause Approval Date: 05/11/2010
Aircraft: CESSNA 182S, registration: N23750
Injuries: 1 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 instrument rated pilot was planning a cross-country flight from his home airport in low fog conditions. The pilot received an instrument flight rules (IFR) clearance about 15 minutes prior to departure from runway 18R. Witnesses reported observing the airplane pass directly over their work site at a very low altitude about 1 mile south of the airport. Recorded radar data disclosed that the airplane was airborne for about 1.5 minutes. Following departure, the airplane made a left bank while gradually increasing its altitude to 1,000 feet mean sea level (msl) to an easterly heading. The last two returns show an altitude of 900 feet msl and a slight change of direction back toward the south. The last radar return was located about 0.5 miles north of the accident site. The departure clearance dictated that the pilot was to continue straight on the runway heading of 180 degrees until intercepting a VOR radial about 6 miles from the airport. Thereafter, he was to make a left turn to join the radial and follow it to the first intersection on the departure route (about 10.25 miles south of the airport). The accident occurred during the hours of darkness with a full moon about 12.9 degrees above the horizon. A routine aviation weather report (METAR) disclosed that during the time of the accident there was an overcast cloud layer at 600 feet agl and 10 miles visibility. The pilot received an Instrument Competency Check several days prior to the accident and reportedly frequently flew with sole reference to the instruments. Ground scar analysis, impact signatures, and wreckage fragmentation patterns disclosed that the airplane impacted terrain in a near level attitude, with high forward velocity. There was no evidence of a pre-mishap mechanical malfunction or failure observed during the examination of the engine or airframe.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
The instrument-rated pilot’s loss of situational awareness and failure to follow the prescribed instrument departure clearance/procedure, which resulted in an in-flight collision with the terrain.


On August 05, 2009, at 0431 Pacific daylight time, a Cessna 182S, N23750, impacted hilly terrain shortly after departing from Napa County Airport, Napa, California. Sierra Madre Corp. was operating the airplane under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. The commercial pilot, the sole occupant, was killed. The airplane was substantially damaged. The cross-country personal flight was originating from Napa with a planned stop in Bakersfield, California, and final destination of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed in the area surrounding the accident site. An instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan had been filed and a clearance had been issued; the flight plan was never activated.

During a telephone conversation with a Safety Board investigator, the pilot's spouse recalled that they had been planning a trip down to New Mexico. As for the trip's logistics, she stated that she was a timid flyer and therefore, opted to take a commercial flight; the pilot planned to fly the accident airplane, which was based at Napa County Airport. He had flown the airplane on this route about five times prior and usually chose to leave early to avoid any inclement weather. For this flight he planned to land in Bakersfield to refuel and then continue on to Santa Fe, where he would meet his wife later in the day. 

After leaving their residence in the San Francisco area, the pilot called his spouse about 0315 reporting that the weather was good. He again telephoned her around 0400, stating that he was at the airplane's hangar and preparing to depart. 

According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records, at 1351 the day prior to the accident, the pilot contacted the Prescott Automated Flight Service Station (FSS). He requested to file two IFR flight plans, the first of which was from Napa to Bakersfield, and the latter was from Bakersfield to Santa Fe. He reported a planned departure time of 0430, and a cruising altitude of 7,500 feet at an airspeed of 130 knots. The pilot stated that he thought there was probably going to be "that morning fog IFR getting out of Napa."

He called flight service the day of the accident at 0408 to open his flight plan and request a clearance. During the ensuing conversation, the pilot received an IFR clearance and correctly read back the following: cleared Napa to Bakersfield via the LIZRD3 departure, CROIT transition, on V108 and as filed, climb and maintain 7,000 feet. 

A contracting crew was pouring concrete the morning of the accident about 1 mile south of the airport [located about 2 miles west of the accident site]. The crew recalled that at about 0430 they witnessed an airplane pass directly over their work site at a very low altitude. They recalled that the area was foggy, but could not determine the height of the cloud layer. They witnessed a fire plume in the distance shortly after the airplane passed over them.

Recorded radar data covering the area of the accident was supplied by the FAA in the form of a National Track Analysis Program (NTAP) printout from Oakland Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC). The radar data was analyzed for time frame and proximity to the anticipated flight track of the airplane en route as dictated in his IFR clearance.

The radar data consisted of approximately equidistant radar returns from 0429:17 to 0430:54, or about 1.5 minutes intervals. The data was consistent with the airplane making a shallow left bank following departure from runway 18R and gradually increasing its altitude towards the east. The target was first identified at a Mode C reported altitude of 100 feet mean sea level (msl). During the proceeding minute, radar returns disclosed a gradual ascent to 1,000 feet msl, corresponding to about 960 feet above ground level (agl). The last two returns show an altitude of 900 feet msl and a slight change of direction to the south. The last radar return was located about 0.5 miles north of the accident site.

The LIZRD 3 departure description for runway 18R is as follows: The pilot is to depart and climb on a 180-degree heading. This heading will lead to the intercept of the Scaggs Island VORTAC radial-127 [located about 6 miles from the departure end of runway 18R], which the pilot is to follow until reaching the LIZRD intersection [located about 10.25 miles south of the runway]. The pilot is to cross the LIZRD intersection at or above 3,000 feet. 

The accident occurred during the hours of darkness, with civil twilight beginning at 0546, and sunrise at 0615. According to the United States Naval Observatory astronomical data, at the time of the accident the moon was 12.9 degrees above the horizon on an azimuth of 233 degrees, and was 100 percent illuminated with a full moon occurring on August 5, 2009.


A review of the airmen records maintained by the FAA disclosed that the pilot, age 67, held a commercial pilot certificate with airplane ratings for single and multi-engine land. The pilot received his instrument rating in April 2001. His most recent third-class medical was issued on July 22, 2008, with a limitation that he must wear corrective lenses to exercise the privileges of his certificate. 

The pilot's personal flight records were found at the accident site; the entirety of the contents could not be read, as they were partially burned. Only one page in the logbook contained flight entries, of which there were six entries dated from January 31, 2009, to August 02, 2009. The entries all indicated the flights originated and terminated in Napa and were conducted in the accident airplane. In pertinent part the entries were as follows:

January 31: Instrument Competency Check, 2 hours (1.8 hours simulated instrument)
March 28: Cross Country, 3.5 hours
April 25: Cross Country, 3.1 hours
May 29: Cross Country, 3.1 hours
June 28: Cross Country, 8.4 hours (0.1 hours actual instrument)
August 02: Instrument Competency Check, 1.8 hours (0.3 hours actual instrument)

The totals at the bottom of the page were recorded as follows (excluding the times listed above): 
Night: 28.5 hours 
Actual instrument: 28.5 hours
Simulated instrument: 162.1 hours 
Total time: 1,080.3 hours

During an interview with a Safety Board investigator, the pilot's certificated flight instructor (CFI) stated that he had flown with the pilot for the duration of his instrument training (over about 2 years) and continuously since that time. He classified the pilot as being a "brilliant" aviator, and commented that he often flew his airplane with sole reference to instruments. He performed the pilot's instrument competency check a few days prior to the accident. During that time, they thoroughly discussed taking off in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) at an uncontrolled airport, and specifically the departure procedures the pilot was executing on the day of the accident. 

The CFI further recalled that the pilot did not use the autopilot system, but did frequently use his Garmin GPS for backup reference.


The Cessna 182S, serial number 18280452, was manufactured in 1999. The airplane's maintenance logbooks were found by a Safety Board investigator in the pilot's hangar. A review of the logbooks revealed that the most recent annual inspection of the airframe and engine was recorded as being performed on July 07, 2008, at a total time of 1,073.8 hours.

A typed letter was found predominantly placed on top of the logbooks in the airplane's hangar. It was dated August 02, 2009, and was addressed to the airplane's mechanic from the pilot. It stated that he did not fly several days prior because he would have had to depart IFR, which he did not want to do with an airplane that had just undergone an annual inspection. 

During an interview with a Safety Board investigator, the airplane's mechanic indicated that he hadn't performed an annual inspection recently. He had agreed with the pilot that he was going to do the annual inspection, but the pilot did not leave him the maintenance logbooks, and therefore, he did not do the maintenance as planned. The pilot had indicated to him that he was not going to fly the airplane.

The pilot's family provided a series of e-mails between the pilot and mechanic, which mainly concerned the annual inspection. On July 20, 2009, the mechanic indicated that he would start the inspection at the end of July. The next day he stated that he "spent time looking over the airplane" and that nothing looked "bad." He further stated that he was "aware of your much anticipated flight of July 30th" and therefore could "confidently say that your airplane will take you where you want to go and bring you home without any problem."

On July 29, 2009, the mechanic e-mailed the pilot that he was "finished with the annual," and that the airplane was "good to go." He asked for the pilot to leave the logbooks in the hangar, to which the pilot replied he would do so, most likely on August 02, 2009, when he had to complete his Instrument Proficiency Check. 


A routine aviation weather report (METAR) generated by an Automated Surface Observation System (ASOS) in Napa reported that at 0354 there was a broken cloud layer at 600 feet above ground level (agl) with 10 miles visibility. It recorded the temperature at 55 degrees Fahrenheit; dew point 54 degrees Fahrenheit. An updated weather report at 0454 additionally reported a broken cloud layer at 600 feet agl with no temperature/dewpoint spread.

The National Weather Service facility in Monterey, California, provided the archived weather information of the Napa ASOS at the time nearest to the accident (given with 5 minutes between observations). The information disclosed that between 0420 and 0435, there was an overcast cloud layer at 600 feet agl with 10 miles visibility. It recorded the temperature at 55 degrees Fahrenheit; dew point 55 degrees Fahrenheit at the time of the accident. 

Pilot Preflight Weather Information 

According to FAA records, at 0310 the morning of the accident, the pilot contacted Prescott Automated FSS via telephone and requested a standard weather briefing for his two previously filed IFR flight plans. He indicated that he would be departing Napa at 0430 en route to Bakersfield. The briefer stated that the conditions in Napa were clear below 1,200 feet, with a temperature dewpoint spread of 1 degree (12 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively). 


No record exists of the pilot, or a pilot using the airplane's registration number, contacting any FSS, Air traffic Control (ATC) tower, or common frequency during the duration of the flight.


Investigators from the Safety Board and Cessna Aircraft Company examined the wreckage while onsite on August 06, 2009. The accident site was located in the Napa Valley hills about 3.25 nautical miles (nm) southeast of the departure end of runway 18R at Napa. The main wreckage was located at an estimated 38 degrees 11.429 minutes north latitude and 122 degrees 14.133 minutes west longitude, at an elevation of about 475 feet msl.

The first identified points of contact consisted of newly cut brush and disrupted dirt in a small ravine making up the far northern end of the debris field at an elevation of 425 feet msl. The area of contact was in a slight ravine between two hills. The ground depressions started at the base of the severed brush and were consistent in size and orientation to that of the landing gear. The ground disturbance continued up to the main wreckage on a magnetic heading of 165 degrees. The debris path was easily identifiable as it was buff in color, starkly contrasting the adjacent black burned ground. The pattern was consistent with the fire not igniting areas where the wreckage had bent/disrupted the dry brush/grass.

The main wreckage came to rest at the perimeter of a vineyard and had been subjected to severe thermal damage. The main wreckage consisted of the inboard right wing, empennage, engine, and the mostly ashen remains of the fuselage. The cabin was completely consumed by fire. The wreckage was partially entangled within the vineyard structure, which included wood posts and wire. 

The inboard right wing was located on the left side of the fuselage with the outboard side pointing downslope and nearly parallel to the debris path. The empennage was thermally destroyed up to the aft baggage area. The horizontal and vertical stabilizers, elevators, and rudder did not appear to have been subjected to fire. The leading edge and outboard section of both horizontal stabilizers sustained crush damage; both elevators remained affixed to their respective attach points. The rudder and vertical stabilizer remained intact. The left inboard wing section (77 inches) was entangled in the vineyard structure about 30 feet southwest (right) of the main wreckage. The Cessna representative stated that the flaps were in the "up" position.

Control continuity was established from the empennage control surfaces to the control cables found within the thermally destroyed area of the fuselage. Thereafter, the wreckage was too fragmented to verify continuity to the respective cockpit controls. The cockpit was thermally consumed and imbedded in the firewall. 

A detailed wreckage and impact report with accompanying pictures is contained in the public docket for this accident.


The Forensic Medical Group, Inc., Fairfield, California, completed an autopsy of the pilot, which stated cause of death to be, "blunt force injury (seconds)." It additionally noted the absence of soot in the tracheo-bronchial tree. 

The FAA Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI) performed toxicological screenings on the pilot. According to CAMI's report (#200900195001) the toxicological findings were negative for carbon monoxide and tested drugs. The following was detected in the pilot's specimens: 7 (mg/dL, mg/hg) acetone in the liver, 19 (mg/dL, mg/hg) ethanol in liver, and 10 (mg/dL, mg/hg) isopropanol in the liver. The toxicology report additionally noted evidence of putrefaction in the specimens received.


Investigators from the Safety Board, Cessna Aircraft Company, and Textron Lycoming examined the wreckage on September 15, 2009, at the facilities of Plain Parts, Pleasant Grove, California.

The powerplant, a Textron Lycoming IO-540-AB1A5, serial number L-26714-48A, was separated from the airframe. All six cylinders remained attached to the crankcase. The engine exhibited no evidence of catastrophic or mechanical malfunction. 

When the magneto drive shaft was rotated by hand, the impulse coupling functioned normally and spark was produced at all six towers. The right magneto was intact. When the magneto drive shaft was rotated by hand, the impulse coupling functioned normally and spark was produced on all six towers. The top spark plugs were intact. No damage was observed within the electrode areas. Light gray deposits were observed within the electrode area. The ignition harness was destroyed. The engine was completely disassembled for further examination. 

Mechanical continuity was visually established throughout the engine. No evidence of heat distress was observed on any of the rotating and reciprocating components. No evidence of metal contamination was observed within the engine. The rear accessory gears were intact and undamaged. All internal areas of the cylinders exhibited no evidence of internal foreign object ingestion. All of the intake and exhaust valve faces were intact and exhibited normal operational signatures. All six pistons were intact and undamaged. Each piston ring assembly was undamaged and remained free within its respective ring land. 

The camshaft was intact and undamaged. Each cam lobe exhibited normal operational signatures. The crankshaft was intact and undamaged. The crankshaft counterweight assemblies remained secure to their respective positions. The crankshaft part number was 13E27628, serial number V53796498. 

The propeller remained attached to the crankshaft flange. One of the three propeller blades was separated from the propeller hub. The remaining two propeller blades exhibited chordwise striations, trailing edge "S" bending, torsional twisting, and leading edge damage. 

No anomalies were noted with the recovered engine that would have precluded normal operation.

The directional indicator was found within the cockpit remains with the heading bug set at 127 degrees. The vacuum system was found strewn in the debris field. The main and standby vacuum pumps were disassembled and examined. The shear drive shafts were intact; the carbon rotor and vanes were shattered, consistent with impact damage. There was light scoring on the inside housing.


Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT)

On March 1, 2003, the Federal Aviation Administration issued Advisory Circular number 61-134, "General Aviation Controlled Flight Into Terrain Awareness." The circular was issued to the general aviation community to "...emphasize the inherent risk that controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) poses for general aviation (GA) pilots." 

The circular defines CFIT as a situation which "...occurs when an airworthy aircraft is flown under the control of a qualified pilot, into terrain (water or obstacles) with inadequate awareness on the part of the pilot of the impending collision."

According to the CFIT circular, "situational awareness" is defined as "...when the pilot is aware of what is happening around the pilot's aircraft at all times in both the vertical and horizontal plane. This includes the ability to project the near term status and position of the aircraft in relation to other aircraft, terrain, and other potential hazards."