On November 9, 2018, 4 people got aboard a small airplane to go on a hunting trip in Iowa. The plane never made its destination and all 4 were killed when the plane crashed into a pasture near Iowa’s Guthrie Center airport. The relatives of the deceased are now bringing forth wrongful death lawsuits that allege an error by Ultra Flight LLC, an aviation maintenance facility, caused the plane crash.
The passengers were flying in a 1979 Piper PA28 airplane. The plane was owned by 36-year-old Patrick Kellen, one of the passengers on board. Kellen was a co-pilot and 49-year-old Edward Anderson was the other pilot.
Anderson suffered a heart attack during the flight. Kellen attempted to take over and radioed to air traffic controllers at Perry Municipal Airport. Kellen’s plan was to try an emergency landing. He had to alter his plans and communicated to nearby aircraft his intention to try the same emergency landing at Guthrie Center.
Half an hour later, the plane had not arrived at either Guthrie or Perry. An emergency alert was issued and the plane found in a nearby pasture. Along with Kellen and Anderson, the victims included 28-year-old Tyler Douvia and 15-year-old Samantha Clark.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) conducted an investigation. The NTSB found that the plane had a long crack in its engine exhaust muffler. The report stated that the muffler was covered with soot deposits and that the same type of deposits were found inside the cabin heat hose, which is what pipes warm air into the cabin.
Furthermore, autopsies from the Iowa State Medical Examiner’s Office revealed that all 4 victims suffered carbon monoxide poisoning prior to the crash.
This is what is at the heart of the wrongful death lawsuit. The families of the deceased allege that maintenance error by Ultra Flight LLC caused the release of the carbon monoxide, which in turn may have caused the death of the pilot, which set in motion the tragic events of the crash.
If the case goes to trial, the plaintiffs will have to prove that Ultra Flight LLC was negligent in their maintenance practices. This will likely involve investigation of safety protocols, working conditions, the skill level of those entrusted with the aircraft and other facets of the maintenance process.
The burden will be on the plaintiffs to show that the standard of care exercised by Ultra Flight LLC fell below what a reasonable and prudent person or management team would have done. There is no expectation in the legal system that any safety system be perfect, but reaching generally accepted community standards is required. Whether those standards were reached would be at the heart of any civil trial.