Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Owners of home destroyed in plane crash may sue town: Cessna 182P Skylane, P & T Aerial Services LLC, N20844, accident occurred September 17, 2016 near Chandler Municipal Airport (KCHD), Maricopa County, Arizona

It's been nearly nine months since a Cessna 182 slammed into Peter and Sharon Lebeau's Gilbert home, but the couple is still living in temporary housing.

There's a shell of a new home sitting where their home of 20 years once sat undisturbed in their neighborhood near Ray and Lindsey Roads. Just the walls, foundation and a portion of the roofing have been rebuilt so far.

Affixed to the chain-link fence that surrounds the lot is a sign that reads, "Please Share & Donate," followed by a Go Fund Me website address to help the Lebeaus.

On Sept. 17, 2016, the wing of an airplane that was part of a skydiving display headed for the annual Constitution Fair at the Gilbert Civic Center caught fire. 

All four passengers and eventually the pilot were able to parachute to safety, leaving the empty aircraft to plummet into the roof of the Lebeau's home. Miraculously, both Peter and Sharon were uninjured.

But their home of 20 years was a "total loss," according to a legal notice filed with the city in March.

In the days following the crash, the couple told the media they were "grateful to God to be alive." But now the couple is reeling with the realities that accompany an unanticipated emergency. 

The Lebeaus filed the notice of claim — a precursor to a lawsuit — against Gilbert seeking $20 million for their pain and suffering and emotional and psychological trauma. Their insurance company filed a separate $507,000 claim for the home and vehicle damage. 

The town is not a sponsor of the event, but does issue a special event permit to allow Constitution Week USA to hold the fair on town property, according to town spokeswoman Dana Berchman. 

In a written statement, the town's attorney Robert Grasso said, "The Town has considered the claim and concluded that the claim asserted against the Town is completely meritless."

But the couple's attorney argues in the notice of claim that the town was responsible for ensuring safety at the event, and its negligence "essentially uprooted and wreaked havoc on a family."

The notice of claim reveals poignant details of the accident. 

Just after 7 p.m., Peter was sitting in his recliner in the "TV room." His wife was across the house in the couple's bedrooms with their two dogs, Motek and Sheba.

The Lebeaus heard a loud crash as the plane ripped through the roof of their home. Fire, glass and debris filled the living room, which separated Peter and Sharon. 

"Neither Peter nor Sharon knew if the other, or their pets were alive," according to the notice of claim.

They both made their way out of the home and into the front yard where they reunited — but the dogs were missing. Peter ran to the back of the burning home and found both pets alive, but covered in shards of glass.

Onlookers had assembled while the couple escaped the home and lined the street with cellphones "not to call for help as one might imagine, rather to eerily take recordings and video of the Lebeau's (sic) and their home," according to the notice of claim.

Family friends escorted the Lebeaus away from the accident scene, but the couple, unable to sleep, returned to their home a few hours later at 1 a.m. They saw the massive hole in the middle of the home and smoke, fire and water damage everywhere.

"The years in the home, their settled and comfortable lifestyle, the priceless memories and heirlooms, the souvenirs they had acquired from all of their world adventures were now debris," according to the notice of claim.

The aftermath

The Lebeaus struggled emotionally in the days and months following the accident, according to the notice of claim. 

Sharon broke down at San Tan Shopping Center as she attempted to replace some of her belongings before a trip. Both Peter and Sharon faced "trepidation" as they prepared to ride in an airplane for the first time following the crash. And each time they heard a siren or saw an emergency vehicle, they were transported back to the night of the accident, the claim says. 

The Lebeaus total damages to date, including the loss of property, medical visits and counseling, tops $800,000, but will continue to climb, according to the claim.

The Lebeaus offered to settle their claims for $10 million each. Their insurance company offered to settle for just over $507,000. Neither party has filed a suit in court.

The town's attorney said Gilbert is not exploring the settlement of these claims as it believes the claims are "meritless." 

The Lebeaus, reached through their attorney, did not comment on the notice of claim.

Constitution Fair will continue

While the legal ramifications of last year's Constitution Fair accident are still to be decided, this year's event is just around the corner, and organizers say it will be "exactly the same" as it was last year — with one notable difference.

There will be no skydivers or aerial displays when the fair comes alive on Sept. 16, according to Constitution Week USA President Dwayne Farnsworth. 

Farnsworth said Constitution Week USA has always used the same skydivers for the fair, and that group no longer has a plane because of last year's accident.

Constitution Week began in Gilbert in 2002. Along with the fair, organizers put on educational events to remind young and old of the often forgotten "Constitution Day" holiday.

Story, video and photo gallery:

The National Transportation Safety Board traveled to the scene of this accident. 

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board: 

P & T Aerial Services LLC:

NTSB Identification: WPR16FA183
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Saturday, September 17, 2016 in Gilbert, AZ
Aircraft: CESSNA 182P, registration: N20844
Injuries: 1 Serious, 5 Minor.

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 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.

On September 17, 2016, about 1918 Mountain standard time, a Cessna 182P, N20844, was destroyed when it impacted a residential structure, following a reported inflight fire near Gilbert, Arizona. The airplane was registered to and operated by P & T Aerial Services LLC under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. The commercial pilot was seriously injured and the 4 passengers sustained minor injuries. One of the two occupants of the house sustained a minor injury. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed for the skydiving flight. The local flight departed Chandler Municipal Airport (CHD) Chandler, Arizona, at an unknown time.

The airplane was participating in the Gilbert's annual Constitution Fair, which involved an aerial pyro technic display and four skydivers parachuting into a predetermined drop zone about 1 mile northwest from the accident site. According to one of the skydivers, as the airplane arrived at the planned jump area and altitude, about 5,000 feet, mean sea level, he heard a loud noise and noticed damage to the airplane's left wing. Shortly thereafter, the skydivers successfully jumped out of the airplane as its left wing became engulfed with flames. The pilot radioed a distress call and then egressed out of the airplane. The airplane subsequently impacted in a residential area about 4 miles from the north of CHD.

Examination of the accident site by a National Transportation Safety Board, investigator-in-charge revealed that the airplane struck through the house's roof and a post impact fire consumed a majority of the airplane and the interior of the house. 

The airplane wreckage was recovered to a secure location for further examination.

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