Articles Posted in aviation accidents

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A fire in the engine may be to blame for a plane crash that probably killed a high-profile University of Florida athletic supporter, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported Sept. 22. Investigators have not officially confirmed the names of victims of the Piper Turbo Saratoga’s crash over the Everglades Sept. 20. However, circumstances have lead friends and family to believe that the four bodies recovered from near the crash are the bodies of Gators booster Bruce Barber; his wife, Karen Barber; their 14-year-old son, Payton Barber; and family friend Phillip Marsh. (The Barbers also had a daughter, ten-year-old Chloe, who stayed behind in Sea Lakes Ranch.) The four left Gainesville after a Florida-Tennessee football game, but never made their scheduled landing at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the crash and will likely take months to make a full report. But Miguel Gerov, who co-owned the airplane, told the Sun-Sentinel that an investigator told him about a radio distress call from the plane. According to Gerov’s report, Bruce Barber radioed to air traffic controllers that smoke was filling his cabin, possibly due to an engine fire. Barber then put the plane into a controlled dive in an attempt to put out the fire, Gerov said, a standard emergency measure. After the dive, he said the plane leveled off and proceeded for 15 more minutes before the crash. Gerov told the newspaper he believed Barber was trying to get to an airport or a stretch of highway where he could land, but may have been incapacitated by the smoke.

Gerov told the newspaper that the plane had had a full maintenance check seven months ago and showed no signs of trouble; he suggested that engine failure may have started the fire. As a Boca Raton aviation accident lawyer, I am interested to see whether the NTSB’s full report identifies equipment failure as the cause of this crash. As a rule, statistics on general aviation (non-commercial carriers) accidents show that human error is most often responsible for accidents. In fact, a 2005 report said mistakes by personnel were factors in a staggering 91% of all aviation accidents, while environmental factors (such as weather) were factors in 39% and equipment problems were factors in 25% of incidents. Human error, such as bad maintenance or improper use of equipment, may be responsible for some equipment failure — but aviation equipment can certainly fail on its own, and when it does, the results can be tragic.

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An investigation found that human error was primarily responsible for a 2007 plane crash in Fort Lauderdale, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported Aug. 17. The National Transportation Safety Board made that conclusion after looking into the causes of the September 2007 crash, in which a twin-engine cargo plane crashed into the shoulder of the interstate, breaking apart. Pilot Robert Robertson survived the crash with injuries to his head, lungs, arms and legs, skidding to a halt on the pavement still strapped into his intact seat. However, the plane was destroyed.

According to the article, the NTSB concluded that the primary contributor to the accident was Robertson’s failure to position a switch properly. His twin-engine Beech H-18 had a switch allowing him to connect the right engine of the plane to either a main fuel tank or an auxiliary tank. The switch was left in between those two settings, which apparently cut the engine off from any fuel at all. As a result, the right engine lost power about 150 feet above the ground, forcing Robertson, an experienced pilot, to make an emergency landing on the highway. The investigation also found that the plane was substantially overloaded, with a cargo bin authorized to hold 75 pound stuffed with 265 pounds of shoes and clothes scheduled for deliver in Nassau.

As a Hollywood aviation accident lawyer, I know that this kind of conclusion isn’t unusual at all. Statistics from the NTSB show that the majority of “general aviation” airplane and helicopter accidents are caused by some kind of human error, including mistakes by pilots, air traffic controllers or decision-makers who authorize flying in poor weather or with faulty equipment. When these bad decisions lead to a serious crash, victims and their loved ones have the right to hold them legally responsible for the results — including wrongful deaths and catastrophic injuries such as brain damage. Our Aventura airplane crash attorneys help victims of these serious accidents hold wrongdoers responsible for their actions and recover the money they need to pay the costs the accident caused.

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A flight headed from Rio de Janeiro to Houston made an emergency landing at Miami International Airport after severe turbulence injured multiple passengers, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported Aug. 3. Airport officials said 26 people of the 168 on the flight were injured, four seriously. The plane was about an hour south of Miami, north of the Dominican Republic, at 4:30 a.m. EST when it hit the turbulence, dropping suddenly and knocking people out of their seats. FAA investigators were at the airport Monday to talk to crew members and establish whether other planes in the region experienced the same turbulence.

According to witnesses interviewed by the newspaper, the plane shook for about 10 seconds and oxygen masks dropped during the rough patch of air. During that time, one woman hit the ceiling of the plane so hard that her head stuck. Another was hit by a load of cargo and knocked unconscious. A doctor traveling on the plane treated the injured, with help from a passenger fluent in both English and Portuguese, until the plane could land in Miami at 5:30 a.m. Fourteen people were taken to hospitals, while the other injured were treated by emergency personnel at the airport. According to another Sun-Sentinel article, most of the injuries related to neck and back pain.

Neither article reported whether the “fasten seat belts” sign was on in the airplane before the turbulence hit. That interests me, as a Fort Lauderdale airplane accident lawyer, because it could be an important issue if any of the passengers or crew decide to make a legal claim against the airline. According to the Sentinel, turbulence injures about 58 Americans every year, usually people who are out of their seats (including flight attendants trying to do their jobs) or not wearing seat belts. Failure by victims to wear a seat belt, after a clear warning to wear it, could be considered contributing to their own injuries. That could hurt victims’ case in any South Florida aviation accident lawsuitand reduce their payments.

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A home in Fort Lauderdale’s Oakland Park neighborhood was severely damaged April 17 after a twin-engine plane crashed into it, killing the pilot and causing a massive fire. The Miami Herald reported April 17 that the crash happened at around 11:15 a.m., just after the plane took off from Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport. Fortunately, nobody was in the destroyed home at the time of the crash — although one occupant had just left for work. Neighbors identified the pilot as Cecil Murray of Tamarac. An FAA spokeswoman told the newspaper that the plane’s flight plan listed only one person aboard, although the agency will look for evidence of more in its investigation.

The article did not say whether neighbors’ homes were damaged, which I hope means the damage was contained. But as the article does note, this crash is another blow to the already troubled safety record at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport. In a 2007 investigative piece, the Herald reported that the airport had a bad safety record both on and off the ground, with at least 30 crashes since 2003. Perhaps more importantly, the airport had the most runway incursions — incidents in which planes got too close to one another, a vehicle or a person — of any U.S. airport from 2001 to 2004. Runway incursions are dangerous because they can cause a ground crash, sometimes at hundreds of miles per hour. Its record has improved, but Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport still ranked in the top 10 when the 2007 article was written.

It’s far too soon to tell whether mechanical problems, human error or other causes are responsible for this most recent crash. But if it turns out that the crash could have been avoided with better design, maintenance or regulatory compliance, those who failed to provide those things could be legally liable for the crash. That includes the pilot’s death and any unreported injuries as well as the cost of all of the property damage in the case — which could be significant. In addition to the destroyed home, the plane itself may be part of any Broward County aviation accident lawsuits that victims file.

Claims brought after airplane accidents are some of the most legally complex personal injury cases. In addition to Florida personal injury law, a Pembroke Pines airplane crash lawyer must understand federal aviation law and the laws of any other state or nation the plane may have flown from or to. And of course, any Florida aviation accident claim will be delayed, often for months, while a full investigation takes place. Afterward, victims and their loved ones may be able to make several claims, including claims for costs like lost wages and medical bills as well as compensation for a wrongful death, permanent disability or serious injury.

If you’ve been seriously hurt in the crash of an airplane, helicopter or other aircraft in South Florida, you should call us at Cohn, Smith & Cohn as soon as possible. We have more than 25 years of experience helping people who were seriously injured or lost a loved one win the money they need to get medical treatment, make ends meet and recover as best as possible from a serious accident. From our main office in Hollywood and six other offices around Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, we represent people throughout South Florida. To speak to us about your case at a free, confidential consultation, please contact us online or call us today at (954) 431-8100.

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A federal agency regulating aircraft found that a central Florida plane accident was caused by pilot error and mistakes by corporate management. An article from Aero-News Network said National Transportation Safety Board investigators concluded in late January that the July 2007 accident “could have been… easily avoided” if personnel at NASCAR’s corporate flight division had made better decisions about an electrical problem with the plane. The NASCAR flight, headed from Daytona to Lakeland, crashed into three residential homes in Sanford while attempting to make an emergency landing at Orlando-Sanford International Airport to deal with an in-flight fire. Two people aboard and three on the ground were killed, including a small child.

According to the article, a different pilot had reported an electrical problem with the plane the day before the crash. That pilot pulled a circuit breaker associated with the malfunctioning equipment and reported the problem to staff at NASCAR’s aviation department. However, the department authorized the plane for flight the next day without fixing the problem, which the NTSB said was one of two major mistakes leading to the crash. Not only did this violate federal regulations, but NASCAR told investigators that it had no record of the first pilot’s report. The other mistake cited was the NASCAR pilot’s choice to fly the plane knowing that there was an unresolved maintenance problem. At some point, the report said, someone reset the circuit breaker, which led to the fire.

The article didn’t say whether any of the victims or their families have filed a Florida airplane accident lawsuit over the incident. But as an aviation accident lawyer in South Florida, I can see that this report would be bad news for NASCAR in any such legal claim. In order to collect damages for the accident — including the costs of medical care, funeral expenses and repairs for the people whose homes were destroyed — victims must show that the accident was caused by someone else’s carelessness. This report does exactly that, showing that federal authorities believe both the corporate decision-makers and the pilot made serious mistakes. In fact, acting NTSB chairman Mark Rosenker said NASCAR’s lack of any record of the first pilot’s maintenance report was “frankly, alarming.”

Thanks to my own practice as a Fort Lauderdale airplane accident lawyer, I happen to know that human error is the most frequently cited cause of plane crashes — far more often than weather or maintenance problems alone. Aircraft are generally still much safer than cars and trucks, but when they do crash, they’re more likely to leave their victims dead or very seriously injured. My firm, Cohn, Smith & Cohn, helps victims of serious airplane crashes hold careless people and organizations responsible for those injuries with Broward County plane crash lawsuits. If you or someone you love is a victim and you’d like to learn more about your options, please contact us online as soon as possible for a free consultation or call us at (954) 431-8100.

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