Wednesday, May 7, 2008
District Judge Rules FAA Fully Liable for Fatal Torrance Helicopter Crash
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The United States Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration is fully liable for a fatal helicopter crash at Torrance Municipal Airport, a U.S. district judge said in a ruling made public yesterday.
Judge Florence-Marie Cooper of the Central District of California concluded that the Nov. 6, 2003 mid-air collision directly in front of the control tower was due to air traffic controller error and negligence. Her conclusion directly contravened the National Transportation Safety Board’s May 2007 finding that the accident was due to pilot error.
Cooper found that the helicopter pilots could not have seen each other and were properly relying upon and complying with the directives issued by the controllers when a helicopter took off into airspace occupied by another helicopter attempting to land. The two occupants of the rising helicopter were killed, and the sole occupant of the landing helicopter sustained permanernt major injuries.
The judge found that neither of the controllers communicated with the pilots in the 16 seconds before impact, and that the controller with the primary responsibility for watching the helicopters was not watching them during those final seconds before impact.
Los Angeles attorney Jim Pocrass of Pocrass, Heimanson & Wolf, who represents one of the pilots involved in the accident, estimated that trial on the issue of damages will take place in about 30 to 45 days and said a verdict or settlement of between $10 million and $20 million is likely.
He called the case a much needed “wake-up call”for the FAA in order to “make it a safer sky.”
Saying he was speaking from his personal experience as a pilot for over 40 years, Pocrass opined that air traffic controllers are overworked, and suggested that this accident would have been avoided if the air traffic controllers had followed their normal operating protocols.
“This was less than 500 feet in front of the control tower,” he noted. “If they had just looked up they would have seen these two helicopters coming toward each other.”
The NTSB report “had nothing to do with reality,” Pocrass said. “It didn’t even have the right facts in it.”
He said that Cooper did not admit the report into evidence because of the inaccuracies the report contained, and “pretty much” adopted the findings of fact and conclusions of law that the plaintiffs had submitted.
An FAA spokesperson declined to comment, citing an agency policy against commenting on current litigation.
The case is Bailey v. United States of America Department of Transportation, CV 06-1191-FMC-VBKx.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company