Judge Rules Air Traffic Controllers Caused Helicopter Crash At Torrance Airport
LOS ANGELES, CALIF. (May 6, 2008) — After a seven day trial in United States District Court, Central District of California, the Hon. Florence-Marie Cooper ruled late yesterday that the United States Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration is 100 percent liable for the Nov. 6, 2003 helicopter crash in front of the Control Tower at Torrance Municipal Airport due to Air Traffic Controller error and negligence.
The case for damages in Melanie Bailey, et. al. v. United States of America Department of Transportation (Federal Aviation Administration) – Case #CV 06-1191 FMC(VBKx) – will be held later this year..
“Whether it’s a jumbo jet that seats hundreds or a two-seater helicopter, pilots must be able to trust the information air traffic controllers relay to them,” says James Pocrass, lead plaintiff attorney for Gavin Heyworth. “In this case, the recording of the taped instructions clearly shows two confused traffic controllers not communicating with each other and giving inaccurate instructions to the pilots that culminated in the death of two people and in the third receiving severe life-long injuries.”
With the ruling of 100 percent liability, the court concurred that the air traffic controllers were negligent for the crash due to a series of errors made while the helicopters were in controlled air space. To begin with, the Control Tower was short one controller for the day. When the fateful incident began, one controller of the three in the Tower had gone on break, leaving one controller in charge of both runways and in charge of all the air traffic around the airport, communicating on two different frequencies.
Recognizing that the controller was in trouble, the Controller in Charge called the controller on break back early. However, they failed to coordinate with each other and to perform a mandated Position Relief Briefing.
Torrance Airport is the home of Robinson Helicopter, the largest manufacturer of helicopters in the United States, as well as to a significant number of helicopter operation/training schools and to numerous fixed base operators. FAA controllers are well accustomed to coordinating and working with the relatively large number of helicopter training flights that take place there on a regular basis. However, on this day, the controllers became enormously confused, giving the two helicopters a series of instructions, including some that violated their duties under specific Air Traffic Control Orders, that placed the helicopters on a collision course.
The crash occurred directly in front of the Control Tower. Neither pilot could see the other because each helicopter was in the other pilot’s “blind spot.” In fact, only the controllers in the Tower had the vantage point to be able to see both aircraft and their relationship to each other. Yet for 18 seconds just prior to the crash, the recording is silent, with no warnings of the other’s existence coming to either air craft from the two controllers.
“Our client, Gavin Heyworth, is 26 years old,” says Pocrass. “As a veteran of the United States Marines’ elite sniper company, Gavin saw action in Kosovo and Iraq. He had been discharged only three months earlier and was in training to become a helicopter pilot when the negligence of these controllers injured him forever and killed husbands and fathers Robert Bailey and Brett Boyd.”
“This judgment acknowledges what went wrong and by whom,” Pocrass continues. “If anything good is to come out of this tragedy the FAA must take action to ensure Torrance Airport controllers are properly trained, monitored and able to do their jobs. Otherwise, the safety of pilots and passengers cannot be ensured.”
Jim Pocrass and Tony De Los Reyes each have more than 30 years experience of successfully representing clients who have been injured due to the carelessness or negligence of others.
Articulate, down-to-earth, and photogenic, Jim and Tony are available for media interviews, comments, or background for stories. They are particularly able to speak to such civil law issues as:
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To arrange to talk with either Jim Pocrass or Tony De Los Reyes, please contact their legal marketing representative Geri Wilson or call 626.487.2235.