Sunday, May 17, 2020

Piper PA-31T Cheyenne II, N42CV: Fatal accident occurred December 28, 2019 near Lafayette Regional Airport (KLFT), Louisiana

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

Additional Participating Entities:
Federal Aviation Administration; Washington, District of Columbia
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Piper Aircraft; Phoenix, Arizona
Hartzell Propeller; Piqua, Ohio
Transportation Safety Board of Canada
Pratt and Whitney Canada

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board:

Accident Number: CEN20MA044
Date & Time: 12/28/2019, 0921 CST
Registration: N42CV
Aircraft: Piper PA 31T
Injuries: 5 Fatal, 2 Serious, 2 Minor
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Executive/Corporate 

On December 28, 2019, about 0921 central standard time, a Piper PA 31T airplane, N42CV, impacted terrain shortly after takeoff from the Lafayette Regional Airport/Paul Fournet Field (LFT), Lafayette, Louisiana. The commercial pilot and four passengers were fatally injured; one passenger sustained serious injuries. Two individuals inside a nearby building sustained minor injuries and one individual in a car sustained serious injuries. The airplane was destroyed by impact forces and a postimpact fire. The airplane was owned by Cheyenne Partners LLC and was piloted by an employee of Global Data Systems. The personal flight was conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed and a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan was filed for the flight. The flight was originating at the time of the accident and was en route to the Dekalb-Peachtree Airport (PDK), Atlanta, Georgia.

The pilot contacted the LFT ground controller and requested a clearance to PDK. The controller issued the IFR clearance to the pilot with an initial heading of 240° and an altitude of 2,000 ft mean sea level (msl). The controller then instructed the pilot to taxi the airplane to runway 22L. As the airplane approached the holdshort line for the runway, the pilot advised that the airplane was ready for takeoff and the controller cleared the airplane to depart from runway 22L. After takeoff the pilot was given a frequency change and successfully established communications with the next air traffic controller. The pilot was instructed to climb the airplane to 10,000 ft and to turn right to a heading of 330°.

Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) data provided by the FAA identified and depicted the accident flight. The ADS-B data started at 09:20:05 as the airplane climbed through 150 ft. msl, or 110 ft. above ground level (agl). The peak altitude recorded was 925 ft msl, from about 09:20:37 to 09:20:40, after which, the airplane entered a continuous descent to the ground. The last ADS-B data point was at 09:20:59, as the airplane descended through 175 ft msl in a steep dive.

Preliminary analysis of this data indicates that after departing runway 22L, the airplane turned slightly to the right toward the assigned heading of 240° and climbed at a rate that varied between 1,000 and 1,900 feet per minute. At 09:20:13, the airplane started rolling back towards wings level. At 09:20:20, the airplane rolled through wings level in a continued roll towards the left. At this time, the airplane was tracking 232°, the altitude was 475 ft msl, and the speed accelerated through 165 kts. calibrated airspeed. The airplane continued to roll steadily to the left, at an average rate of about 2 degrees per second. At the peak altitude of 925 ft msl at 09:20:40, the roll angle was about 35° left, the track angle was about 200°, and the airspeed was about 172 knots. The airplane then started to descend while the left roll continued, and the airplane reached a roll angle of 70° left at 09:20:52, while it descended through 600 ft msl, between 2,000 and 3,000 feet per minute.

According to the FAA, as the airplane descended through 700 ft msl, a low altitude alert was issued by the air traffic controller to the pilot; the pilot did not respond. No mayday or emergency transmission was recorded from the accident airplane.

According to multiple witnesses on the ground, they first heard an airplane flying overhead, at a low altitude. Several witnesses stated that it sounded as if both engines were at a high rpm. Multiple witnesses observed the airplane appear out of the low cloud bank in a steep, left-bank turn. One witness stated that the airplane rolled wings level just before it struck the trees and transmission lines on the south edge of Verot School Road. The airplane then struck the road and continued across the United States Postal Service (USPS) parking lot. Two USPS employees received minor injuries from flying glass inside of the building. One individual was seriously injured after the airplane struck the car she was parked in. The car rolled several times before it came to rest inverted; a postimpact fire consumed the car.

The wreckage path included fragmented and burned pieces of the airplane and tree debris, and extended from the trees and transmission line, along an approximate bearing of 315°, for 789 ft. The right wing, the outboard left wing, both engines, both elevator controls, the rudder, the instrument panel, and forward cabin separated from the main fuselage and pieces were located in the debris field. The main wreckage consisted of the main fuselage and the inboard left wing.

Before the accident the Automated Surface Observing System at LFT reported at 0853, a wind from 120° at 5 knots, overcast clouds with a vertical visibility of 200 ft and ¾ statute mile ground visibility. The temperature was 19° C, the dew point was 19°C, and the altimeter was 29.97 inches of mercury.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Piper
Registration: N42CV
Model/Series: PA 31T
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: No
Operator: Cheyenne Partners Llc
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Instrument Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: KLFT, 42 ft msl
Observation Time: 0853 UTC
Distance from Accident Site: 1 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 19°C / 19°C
Lowest Cloud Condition:
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 5 knots / , 120°
Lowest Ceiling: Indefinite (V V) / 200 ft agl
Visibility:  0.75 Miles
Altimeter Setting: 29.97 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: IFR
Departure Point: Lafayette, LA (LFT)
Destination: Atlanta, GA (PDK)

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries: 4 Fatal, 1 Serious
Aircraft Fire: On-Ground
Ground Injuries: 1 Serious, 2 Minor
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 5 Fatal, 2 Serious, 2 Minor
Latitude, Longitude: 30.176111, -92.007500

Lawsuits filed by the survivors and families of victims of a December plane crash in Lafayette will be heard only in federal court.

U.S. District Judge Michael Juneau of the Western District of Louisiana ruled in September that all lawsuits filed in state court stemming from the crash of a small twin-engine Piper turboprop plane are halted and instead will be considered in federal court.

The plane carrying a pilot and five passengers crashed Dec. 28 shortly after takeoff from Lafayette Regional Airport on its way to the Atlanta area where LSU was playing in the Peach Bowl. Only one passenger, survived. A woman on the ground also was injured when the plane struck her vehicle.

Sports broadcaster Carley McCord Ensminger, the wife of Steven Ensminger Jr., the son of LSU’s offensive coordinator, was among those killed in the crash.

Also killed were passengers Gretchen Vincent, Michael Walker Vincent and Robert Vaughn Crisp II, along with the pilot, Ian Biggs. One passenger, Stephen Wade Berzas, was the sole survivor, suffering burns over much of his body.

Kristie Danielle Britt was in her vehicle in a parking lot near a U.S. Postal Office when the plane struck her vehicle, causing it to flip and catch fire. She suffered burns over about 30% of her body.

In May, the two survivors and families of the passengers killed in the crash sued in 15th Judicial District court the plane’s owners, the pilot’s estate and companies insuring the plane. They followed in July with lawsuits in federal court after Endurance American Insurance Company sought to cap damages at the $5 million policy limit, prevent additional lawsuits and have the court decide how the money would be disbursed.

Attorneys for the victims’ families and survivors alleged in court filings the insurance company took advantage of their notice of intent to file suit in state court and filed documents in federal court electronically before state court opened.

Endurance American wanted all lawsuits funneled through federal court.

The lawsuits also named Cheyenne Partners, LLC; Eagle Air, LLC; Global Data Systems, Inc.; Southern Lifestyle Development Company, LLC; SLD Aircraft, LLC; The Travelers Indemnity Company of Connecticut; Rodney Savoy; Charles Vincent; and Ian E. Biggs’ estate.

The husband of Carley McCord, a broadcaster who was one of five people killed in a Lafayette plane crash in December, has filed a lawsuit against the plane's owners and the pilot's estate. 

Steven Ensminger Jr., the son of LSU football offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger, sued in Lafayette Parish court seeking damages for his wife's death.

Ensminger's lawsuit claims the plane's owners and the pilot, Ian Biggs, were negligent in McCord's death, failing to properly maintain the plane and for letting Biggs fly in unfavorable weather conditions without proper training. 

Carley McCord, four others, killed in December crash

McCord and four others died on December 28th when the small passenger plane they were traveling in crashed shortly after takeoff from the Lafayette Regional Airport. McCord and the others were traveling to the Atlanta-DeKalb Peachtree Airport, on their way to attend the Peach Bowl semifinal championship game between LSU and Oklahoma.

Shortly after takeoff, the plane hit trees and power lines in front of an apartment on Verot School Road, then hit the road and continued across the U.S. Post Office parking lot before landing in a nearby field. 

The crash killed five of the six people on board, including the pilot, Biggs. The sixth passenger, Stephen Wade Berzas, was treated for burns that covered 75% of his body. A bystander, who was in the post office's parking lot, also was injured and suffered burns to 30% of her body. 

Ensminger Jr. filed the lawsuit earlier this month seeking damages from the plane's owners Global Data Systems Inc, Cheyenne Partners, LLC, Eagle Air, LLC and Southern Lifestyle Development Company LLC.; the insurance companies Sompo International Holdings and LTD, Endurance American Insurance Company; and the estate of Biggs. 

Global Data Systems is owned by Charles Vincent. His wife and son, 51-year-old Gretchen Vincent; and 15-year-old Michael Walker Vincent, also died in the crash. Robert Vaughn Crisp II, another victim, was the vice president of business development and field services at the company. Berzas was the vice president of sales.

Lawsuit claims owners, pilot did not properly inspect aircraft

In the lawsuit, Ensminger claims the owners and pilot owed McCord a “duty of care to inspect, service, repair, maintain and control the aircraft in a safe and airworthy condition so as not to cause injury or death to passengers.”

However, Ensminger alleges the owners and pilot breached those duties by failing to properly inspect and maintain the aircraft; failing to supervise the pilot; failing to protect its passengers against unreasonable risk of injury and death; and were negligent in the selection, operation, maintenance, custody, control and use of the plane. 

The morning of the crash, there was low visibility — about three-fourths of a mile — and the cloud base began at about 200 feet, according to the National Transportation and Safety Board. 

Biggs “lacked the experience and/or training to operate (the plane) in less than ideal meteorological conditions, as was the case on the date of the crash," Ensminger wrote in his lawsuit. Ensminger also claims the owners of the plane knew Biggs lacked the experience or training.

Biggs obtained his commercial pilot's license in 2005, according to Federal Aviation Administration records. The plane had its last maintenance check in October. It was last flown December 18th from Houston, which is about a 40-minute flight. Biggs was the pilot on that flight. 

Biggs had 1,531 hours of flight time, according to his last license update, the NTSB said. 

McCord had a fear of flying, Ensminger wrote in the lawsuit. He said she knew when the plane was crashing, which caused her to experience severe emotional trauma and panic and caused damage to her nervous system and psyche. 

“Upon information and belief, Carley McCord Ensminger sustained severely painful and debilitating bodily injuries when (the plane) contacted the ground and when the aircraft caught fire," according to the filing. "Said bodily injuries caused Carley McCord Ensminger to experience virtually unimaginable pain and suffering until the moment of her untimely death.”

Ensminger also claims he has suffered “extreme mental and emotional distress as a direct result of the death of this wife."

Other damages as a result of the plane crash and McCord's death include the "loss of love, affection, companionship and consortium of his wife;" mental anguish; loss of economic and financial support; and funeral expenses, according to the lawsuit. 

Ensminger does not say how much he is seeking in damages, but rather that he is seeking "an amount fair and reasonable under the premises of this mater." He also asks for a trial by jury. 

The National Transportation and Safety Board has not released its final report about the fatal crash. But it has said there were no distress calls made from the plane and the landing gear was not out at the time of the crash. 

There was no flight data recorder, commonly known as a black box, the NTSB said. Not having one is common on planes like the eight-passenger Piper Cheyenne that crashed.

As part of its investigation, the NTSB will assess the pilot's training, qualifications and medical certifications. It will look into the aircraft's maintenance history and the airframe. It also will assess if or how the weather affected the flight. 


  1. Other news stories about the lawsuit filings state that she was told before the crash that the plane was “going down.” Presumably, the survivor who recovered would be the source of that information, from his memory of the short flight.

    A jury trial with testimony from that recovered/burn victim passenger would convey the horrific details of perception in the cabin as the accident unfolded. It is probably safe to presume that the defendants won't risk a jury trial.

    It is unfortunate for everyone involved that a Part 135 charter arrangement was not utilized. There is passenger safety value in the inspection intervals and pilot currency requirements for 135 operations. Takeoff would not have taken place under Part 135 for the weather minimums of the accident day.

  2. The investigation is not complete and the final report has not been released. Any lawsuits filed now will be based on conjecture. Sounds like the sharks were circling the boat.

    1. Time limits apply, so filing without waiting preserves the ability to bring the case no matter how long the NTSB takes to complete its work.

    2. On behalf of all sharks, I object to being lumped in with lawyers!

  3. " Ensminger alleges the owners and pilot breached those duties by failing to properly inspect and maintain the aircraft; failing to supervise the pilot; failing to protect its passengers against unreasonable risk of injury and death; and were negligent in the selection, operation, maintenance, custody, control and use of the plane."

    Strong accusations unfounded by facts. We'll only know the facts from the final NTSB report. Lawyers are the scum of the earth and they are directly responsible for nearly ruining general aviation back in the 1980s when they forced Cessna and others to cease production for several years due to frivolous lawsuits.

    I'm not saying this lawsuit is frivolous because nobody knows the cause(s) yet, but these claims are completely baseless without a final NTSB report which will be on average two years out, and likely longer now with the backlog of investigations due to COVID-19 lockdown. The legal teams of the defendants need to motion the courts to delay any legal action until the final NTSB report is given.

    1. Aviation lawsuits operate best on logic: The crash happened.
      Cause of this crash will fit one of these two choices:
      1. Conditions exceeded abilities of pilot.
      2. Aircraft malfunctioned.

      Since no cause has been determined, the lawsuit allegations must be front loaded to cover all possible contributing factors.

      Notice that the lawsuit does not include Pratt and Whitney. Legal team knows that no pilot would reasonably expect to be able to make an emergency landing in the conditions that existed at takeoff. That is enough to show "failure to protect its passengers against unreasonable risk".

      Any shortcomings found in training, maintenance or crash history for this type and age aircraft will strengthen the case. Waiting for final NTSB report won't be necessary.

    2. Unfortunately, even if the NTSB comes out with a report, they cannot be used in court as evidence for the simple reason that the NTSB would be called to testify on every crash where there is a lawsuit (pretty much every single one). Therefore to avoid the NTSB losing time in lawsuits, their work is useless in a civil lawsuit case.

    3. “Legal team knows that no pilot would reasonably expect to be able to make an emergency landing in the conditions that existed at takeoff.” I DISAGREE!! If the weather was 200’ Overcast and 3/4 mile visibility, the minimum weather for the Instrument Approach to land back on runway 22L is 1/2 mile visibility, therefore allowing for an emergency return and landing. Many factors apply: aircraft navigation equipment, pilot experience and workload, aircraft performance, etc. Also, Most pilots that attend Annual re-current simulator training should practice engine failures and engine-out emergency returns in low visibility conditions.

    4. “ Legal team knows that no pilot would reasonably expect to be able to make an emergency landing in the conditions that existed at takeoff.” I DISAGREE!! if the weather was 200’ overcast and 3/4 mile visibility on takeoff, the minimum visibility for the Instrument Approach for Runway 22L is 1/2 mile, allowing for a return and landing. Many factors apply: installed aircraft navigation equipment, pilot experience and workload, aircraft performance, etc. Also, most pilots that attend Annual re-current simulator training practice engine failures on takeoff and engine-out landings in low visibility weather.

  4. Unfortunately a tragic event has occurred with loss of life ,severe injuries and property damage ...after events like this no matter whom or what is at fault.."it's just the business ofthe business "...this is where the lawyers and the lawsuits come in...everybody gets sued...and depending on how this all "shakes out"..the money and or no money and who's money is going to or not going to change hands...I think it's called the "legal system"..still very sad for all involved

  5. As Karl Marx said in a end phase capitalistic market economy i.e saturated market, the economic activity will devolve into redistribution of goods and services based on the law of the jungle i.e who can either rob who or who can leverage the means of a collapsing state i.e legal system, to rob legally someone else. This while no actual useful work happens. This is similar to the feudal system's rent seeking where a lord would put a rope on a river and charge money by sheer power of control they had over the waterway with no actual useful economic activity produced.
    This signals a rotten system about to collapse.

  6. Docket is now available for public access, no final report yet.

    One item of interest in the docket is that the elevator trim tabs were positioned for full nose up as found in the wreckage. See pg 4 through 6 of the Systems Factual Report.

    The powerplant factual report does not appear to indicate trouble with engines or props.


    1. WBRZ said somthing about the props not being at full rpm?

      "One report from May 21, 2020, said a reduction in power to the engines possibly caused a drag on the propellers during its final descent. Another report, dated April 30, 2020, lists sound analyzed from surveillance footage from nearby buildings and suggests the propellers were not rotating at maximum speed."

    2. I don't think that report means much. What is the first thing you are taught to do in unusual attitude recovery in a dive? Retard the throttles. That would mean the propellers would be spinning at less than full throttle when he hit the ground. Also, the surviving passenger, Wade, said that everything "sounded and felt normal up until impact." That would mean that engines were running normally. He would certainly feel and hear the engine throttle down.