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FAA Sued In Connection With 2010 Accident

Father Of One Of Those On Board Says Controllers Did Not Offer Proper Assistance

A lawsuit has been filed against the FAA in connection with an accident which occurred in January, 2010, that fatally injured two students at Hope College in Michigan. The father of Emma Biagioni, who had been a passenger on the flight, filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids.

The plane was being flown by 23-year-old David Otai, also a student at the college. The Cessna 172 went down in heavy fog shortly after departure from West Michigan Regional Airport, which at the time was Tulip City Air.

According to a report appearing on the Michigan news site "MLive," Otai had contacted ATC after encountering heavy fog during the VFR flight. A transcript of the radio conversation indicated that Otai had requested vectors back to Tulip City after being "caught up in some fog." A controller at Muskegon Approach reportedly said that she had not heard or understood Otai's request for vectors, and gave him an incorrect frequency to contact a flight service station. He was given a second incorrect frequency by a second controller, according to documents filed in court. When he finally was able to contact a controller, Otai said he was flying VFR and was declaring an emergency. The plane impacted terrain a few minutes later.

Emma Biagioni's father Peter Biagioni claims in the suit filed by attorney Mark Schwartz that the controllers "did not provide the pilot with the required normal and emergency assistance commencing from the point in command’s first radio call to the point at which Cessna N8405E impacted the terrain, killing all aboard."

The NTSB's probable cause report states "The pilot rented the airplane for most of the day to give rides to friends and had fueled it to capacity. He told a lineman that he planned to takeoff and, if necessary, would file an instrument-flight-rules flight plan and return to the airport. Witnesses saw the airplane take off and disappear into the overcast. Shortly thereafter, they heard an airplane make four passes over the airport. The sound became progressively louder but they could not see the airplane. On the fifth pass, the airplane was seen approximately 50 feet above the ground and it barely cleared a stand of trees. Recorded ATC transcripts revealed that the pilot contacted approach control and told the controller that he was caught in heavy fog and wanted vectors back to the airport. The airplane crashed shortly thereafter in a snow-covered field.

"Although the pilot was instrument rated, he had not flown with instruments since receiving his rating 2 years ago. He had logged 1.8 hours in actual instrument meteorological conditions, 50.8 in simulated IMC, and 6.7 hours in a flight simulator." The probable cause was determined to be "the pilot's decision to take off in known instrument meteorological conditions without instrument currency or recent instrument experience, which led to spatial disorientation resulting in an inadvertent spin. Contributing to the accident was the pilot's lack of adequate rest prior to the flight."

The damages sought in the lawsuit were not specified.

FMI: www.miwd.uscourts.gov, NTSB Probable Cause Report

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