Magana Cathcart & McCarthy

King Air Crash at Long Beach

Avoiding the Rush to Judgment in General Aviation Accident Cases

According to the very brief NTSB Preliminary Report:

On March 16, 2011, at 1029 Pacific daylight time, a Beech “King Air” 200, N849BM, was substantially damaged when it impacted terrain during takeoff from Long Beach Airport (LGB), Long Beach, California. The commercial pilot and four passengers were fatally injured; a fifth passenger was seriously injured. The airplane was being operated under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. A flight plan had been filed for a cross-country flight to Heber City, Utah; the crash occurred on initial departure. Visual meteorological conditions (VMC) prevailed at the time of the accident. Witnesses reported that the airplane had reached an altitude of approximately 200 feet, when it “wobbled” side to side several times and then rolled to the left. Following terrain impact, a fire erupted.

There is not much to be learned from the limited information provided in the report, yet many reporters, pundits, and even attorneys rush to judgment early in a case without adequate facts upon which to base opinions. Based upon the description of the crash, theories could include:

  • The aircraft was overloaded.
  • There was an encounter with wake turbulence from a preceding aircraft.
  • The door opened.
  • There was an engine failure.
  • The pilot suffered medical emergency.
  • There was a bird strike.

Often aviation accidents are a combination of many factors, and it serves no purpose on focusing on conjecture early in an investigation. One of the big problems aviation attorneys encounter is that the families of the passengers are not allowed to participate in the NTSB investigation. This is left to the NTSB, airframe, engine and component part manufacturers, and insurance company representatives. However, we can have our investigations ready to look at the wreckage as soon as it is released by the NTSB. We can also stay in contact with insurance representatives and the NTSB investigator in charge to try and learn as much as possible as the investigation progresses.

The aircraft involved in the crash cited above was manufactured in 1981. Aviation attorneys must understand the General Aviation Revitalization Act, which prohibits lawsuits against manufacturers for products over 18 years old. If the government is going to be involved as a potential defendant, for example in the event wake turbulence was a factor, attorneys must fully understand the Federal Tort Compensation Act, and all of its requirements.

There are many unique facets to handling these types of General Aviation accident cases, and attorneys with the proper experience should be involved. We know how to follow the investigation, what to look for as evidence, and how to pursue the proper evidence, and welcome inquiries into this, or any other aviation accident case.

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