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Fri, Nov 16, 2012

Tower Builder Sued In Connection With 2011 Accident

Pilot's Family Said Structure Was Purposely Designed To Avoid FAA Visibility Requirements

Ag pilot Stephen Allen was fatally injured in January, 2011, after his airplane struck a 198-foot-tall meteorological tower that, according to the NTSB's probable cause report, he likely did not see. His family has filed suit against the tower's builders, saying it was purposely designed to avoid FAA visibility requirements.

Allen had been flying for over 25 years, and ran his own agricultural spraying business, according to a report appearing in the Contra Costa (CA) Times. In the suit, his family contends that NRG systems purposely built the tower at 198 feet to avoid safety requirements for structures 200 feet and taller. Towers above 200 feet are required to be lit and painted in high-visibility colors according to federal law.

NRG has denied the allegations. In responding to the complaint, the company's attorney Craig Livingston said that Allen was "currently and comparatively negligent," making the accident his own fault.

The NTSB said in its probable cause report that "an in-flight collision with an unmarked meteorological evaluation tower (MET) during an aerial application flight due to the pilot's failure to see and avoid the obstacle. Contributing to the accident was the lack of visual conspicuity of the MET and the lack of information available to the pilot about the MET before the flight." The board's findings are not admissible as evidence in court.

Also named in the suit are property owners Delta Wetlands Properties and ZKS Real Estate Partners LLC, as well as tower installers Western Development and Storage LLC, Shah and Associates Inc. and Bouldin Farming Co. The suit had been filed a year ago, and was recently transferred to Contra Costa County Superior Court.

The case prompted the California legislature to enact a law requiring any tower over 50 feet tall and built after January 1, 2013 to be marked with orange and white paint, equipped with orange marking balls on guide wires, and the anchor points on the ground clearly marked. Lighting on such towers is optional.

FMI: www.cc-courts.org

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