Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Attorney argues aircraft crashed because the pilot didn’t operate the plane within the limits of the day’s conditions: Piper PA-32R-300 Cherokee Lance, N7677C

Lee & Coral Wyckoff


Mary Quintana


Attorneys for a teenage girl who survived a 2020 plane crash in West Jordan — which killed her mother, the pilot, his infant child, and a woman whose house was hit — have filed a lawsuit saying the aircraft shouldn’t have taken off that day.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in 3rd District Court, alleges the plane was either overweight, overloaded or the pilot, Lee Wyckoff, didn’t consider or properly calculate the elevation and temperature, or otherwise flew the plane when conditions were unsafe.

Wyckoff, his 9-month-old daughter Coral, and passenger Milda Shibonis all died when the plane crashed into a home in West Jordan on July 25, 2020. The homeowner, 72-year-old Mary Quintana, also died after a few days in the hospital. She was outside on her porch when the aircraft crashed.

Shibonis’ daughter, Veda Sheperd, then 12, survived. Rebecca Wyckoff, the pilot’s wife and the baby’s mother, also survived. So did their then-2-year-old son Cody.

The National Transportation and Safety Board hasn’t yet concluded its investigation into the crash. A preliminary report states the plane crashed a little more than a minute after takeoff. The board hasn’t issued a final report.

Witnesses told investigators the plane was flying “very low” and teetered or banked before it crashed.

The report states that Wyckoff had filed an instrumental flight rules plan, used when weather doesn’t allow for the pilot to navigate with visual cues.

FOX 13 reported that Wyckoff had received an instrument flight rules certification less than two weeks before the flight.

Edward Havas, an attorney for the teen’s representative, said Shibonis and her daughter knew Wyckoff and were flying with him to sightsee.

Havas said that while the transportation and safety board hasn’t yet determined the plane crashed because of “density altitude” issues, the allegations in the lawsuit “are inferences based on several factors,” including the temperature and airport elevation, the number of people aboard, and that the plane crashed so soon after takeoff.

Density altitude is a calculation that pilots use to determine how high or low temperatures, elevation and humidity could impact how the plane flies. A higher density altitude decreases a plane’s performance, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

“Hot, high, and humid weather conditions can cause a routine takeoff or landing to become an accident in less time than it takes to tell about it,” the FAA said.

Wyckoff lived in Virginia, according to his obituary, but grew to love Utah after working here as the state’s first inspector general.

The Tribune was unable to contact the named defendants, Wyckoff’s business Living Evergreen LLC, and his wife, Rebecca, because their attorney information wasn’t listed in court records.

The wrongful death and personal injury lawsuit is seeking more than $300,000 in damages.



KUTV obtained a photograph from a flight school in North Carolina that was posted on July 17, 2020 showing Wyckoff standing next to the Piper PA-32R-300 Cherokee Lance, N7677C.



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 did not travel to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entity:

Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Salt Lake City, Utah 

Living Evergreen LLC

https://registry.faa.gov/N7677C

Location: West Jordan, UT
Accident Number: WPR20LA238
Date & Time: 07/25/2020, 1345 MDT
Registration: N7677C
Aircraft: Piper PA32R
Injuries: 4 Fatal, 2 Serious, 1 Minor
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Personal

On July 25, 2020, about 1345 mountain daylight time, a Piper PA-32-300R, N7677C, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident near West Jordan, Utah. The pilot, two passengers, and one person on the ground received fatal injuries, two passengers received serious injuries, one passenger received minor injuries. The airplane was being operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight.


A South Valley Regional Airport (U42) security camera recorded the accident airplane takeoff from runway 16, a 5862 ft long and 100 wide runway. The airplane appeared to become airborne abeam taxiway K2, about 3700 feet from the beginning of runway 16. See figure 1. The airplane remained in a shallow climb until the airplane was no longer visible in the security video. About 75 seconds after lifting off, a large plume of black smoke was visible in the distance south east. Figure 2 shows N7677C as it lifts off near taxiway K2.



Figure 1. Overhead view of U42, showing distance of runway used during the takeoff.

Figure 2. View of N7677C as it lifts off abeam taxiway K2.

Multiple witnesses reported they observed the airplane at a very low altitude, banking or "teetering" before it descended to the ground. Numerous first responders reported hearing a loud explosion followed by observing a house, garage and wreckage of the airplane engulfed in flames.


Examination of the accident site by a Federal Aviation Administration inspector revealed that the airplane came to rest in the backyard of a residential home about 1.5 miles southeast of U42. The fuselage came to rest on its left side, and all major structural components of the airplane were found within 40 ft of the main wreckage. A post-impact fire consumed portions of both wings and forward portion of the fuselage.


The airplane was recovered to a secure facility for further examination.


Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information


Aircraft Make: Piper

Registration: N7677C
Model/Series: PA32R 300
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: No
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan


Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions

Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: U42, 4606 ft msl
Observation Time: MDT
Distance from Accident Site: 1 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 31°C / 7°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 6 knots / , 150°
Lowest Ceiling:
Visibility: 10 Miles
Altimeter Setting: 30.08 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: IFR
Departure Point: West Jordan, UT (U42)
Destination: Page, AZ (PGA)

Wreckage and Impact Information


Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal

Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 2 Fatal, 2 Serious, 1 Minor
Aircraft Fire: On-Ground
Ground Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 4 Fatal, 2 Serious, 1 Minor
Latitude, Longitude: 40.618333, -111.988889 (est)

3 comments:

  1. known by lawyers, "THE NTSB’S PROBABLE CAUSE OPINIONS ARE INADMISSIBLE IN COURT. Under the Federal Aviation Act (“FAA”) as well as case law around the country, at most, only the factual portions of these reports are admissible as evidence in civil litigation. Federal Aviation Act of 1958, § 701(e), 49 U.S.C. § 1154(b)[2]"

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    Replies
    1. True, but all the lawsuit needs to do is convince a jury that he was careless taking off in the non-turbo aircraft with the weight of people and fuel quantity on board for the density altitude associated with 4,600 feet airfield elevation and the noted 88 F temperature.

      If there is a FBO record of full fuel fill before the takeoff, it would likely be a easy win.

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    2. The factual portion is all they'll need. If there's no evidence of mechanical failure it comes down to pilot error. If he was over gross weight for the density altitude it's even easier--pilot negligence. I imagine the family of the lady on the ground will get involved as well.

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