Lawsuit: attendant who refueled plane that crashed should have been barred from working
The family of a pilot who died after his plane crashed in Spokane alleges that the attendant at Felts Field who pumped the wrong kind of fuel into the aircraft should never have been working at that job.
An updated lawsuit, filed this week in Spokane County Superior Court, claims the attendant, Christopher Therrell, wrongly filled Michael Clements’ propeller plane with jet fuel, causing the engine to malfunction.
Clements, 61, was flying alone from Alberta, Canada, to California on Feb. 22, 2015. Shortly after stopping at Felts Field to refuel, his Piper Malibu Mirage crashed north of East Sprague Avenue at Erie Street, near the Hamilton Street bridge over the Spokane River.
Clements was unconscious when removed from the plane and died two days later at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center. Investigators quickly determined the plane was filled with jet fuel, even though it had a piston-powered engine that uses a less volatile aviation fuel.
Therrell was an employee of Western Aviation, Felts Field’s fuel concessionaire. The lawsuit claims he had a history of drug problems that should have precluded him from getting the job. It claims Western Aviation hired him because his uncle, Tim Gump, owns the company.
The lawsuit claims the company knew about Therrell’s history and did not require him to pass a drug test before hiring him. It also claims that after Clements’ plane crashed, Therrell agreed to take a drug test but never showed up.
Therrell later was promoted to a management position, supervising other refueling attendants, although he never completed management training, the lawsuit claims.
Attempts to contact Therrell on Friday afternoon were unsuccessful. A Western Aviation employee also declined comment Friday.
The lawsuit seeks damages from Therell and Western Aviation as well as two fuel providers, Houston-based Phillips 66 and Kalispell-based CityServiceValcon. It claims the fuel providers were responsible for ensuring Western Aviation complied with safety regulations, but ignored “critical deficiencies” detected in 2010.
Refueling stations are supposed to be outfitted with a different nozzle for each type of fuel, reducing the likelihood of a mix-up. Instead, the lawsuit claims, Western Aviation used a “rogue nozzle” to refuel Clements’ plane – after repeatedly mistaking it for a plane that runs on jet fuel.
Clements’ death, the lawsuit concludes, “was caused by the negligence, carelessness and recklessness of the defendants.”
A Phillips 66 spokesman said the company doesn’t comment on legal matters, and attempts to contact a CityServiceValcon spokesperson were unsuccessful.
The lawyer representing Clements’ estate, James Anderson, said he and the family aren’t ready to comment on the case.
Original article can be found here: http://www.spokesman.com
FAA Flight Standards District Office: FAA Spokane FSDO-13
NTSB Identification: WPR15LA111
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, February 22, 2015 in Spokane, WA
Aircraft: PIPER PA46 - 350P, registration: CGVZW
Injuries: 1 Fatal.
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. NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.
On February 22, 2015, at 1405 Pacific standard time, a Piper Aircraft, Inc., PA46-350P airplane, Canadian registry CGVZW, experienced a loss of engine power during climb out from runway 22R at Felts Field Airport (SFF), Spokane, Washington. The Canadian certificated pilot, the sole occupant, succumbed to his injuries on February 24, 2015. The airplane was destroyed during the attempted emergency landing after it struck a railroad track. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the instrument flight rules (IFR) flight that originated shortly before the accident. The flight was destined for the Stockton Metropolitan Airport (SCK) Stockton, California.
A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator and a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector responded to the accident site and identified two different groups of witnesses. The first set of witnesses observed the airplane with the engine sputtering. They observed the left wing drop and the nose pitch up. The right wing then dropped, and the witnesses lost sight of the airplane as it passed behind a building. The second set of witnesses reported that the right wing struck a railroad track at the top of a hill and subsequently traveled down an embankment. The witnesses reported that the airplane slid across a road and came to rest inverted adjacent to the bottom of a railroad bridge.
Responding investigators stated that the majority of the airplane came to rest at the accident site, with additional wreckage strewn throughout the debris path. Both of the wings had separated from the airplane fuselage; however, they remained near the main wreckage. The investigators stated that the fuel tanks ruptured during the accident sequence, and there was a strong smell of Jet fuel present.
The FAA inspector obtained the fueling log from Western Aviation at SFF; the fuel log indicated that the accident airplane had been refueled with 52 gallons of Jet fuel prior to takeoff.
Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board investigation may contact them by email firstname.lastname@example.org, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email email@example.com.