Lawsuit Filed Against the FAA in 2016 Accident Near Tuscaloosa

Suit claims air traffic controllers contributed to the crash.

Piper Navajo
This Navajo is similar to the accident aircraft.John Davies/Wikipedia

Family members of two victims of an August 14, 2016, crash of a Piper Navajo have filed a lawsuit in a District Court in Mississippi claiming air traffic controllers failed to provide the pilot with accurate information, data that plaintiffs say could have prevented the accident.

The NTSB found the cause of the accident to be "a total loss of power in both engines due to fuel starvation as a result of the pilot's fuel mismanagement, and his subsequent failure to follow the emergency checklist. Contributing to the pilot's failure to follow the emergency checklist was his lack of emergency procedures training in the accident airplane."

The Tuscaloosa News reported yesterday that prior to filing a lawsuit, family members of the victims filed a claim with the FAA related to the crash. The FAA legal counsel wrote in response, "Our review has not disclosed facts upon which a finding of liability on the part of this agency could be based."

Air traffic controllers communicating with the Navajo pilot provided Tuscaloosa, Alabama (TCL), as a possible landing airport when the pilot called for help. The airplane crashed less than one-quarter of a mile from TCL killing all six people on board. The Tuscaloosa News reported yesterday that prior to filing a lawsuit, family members filed a claim with the FAA related to the crash. The FAA legal counsel wrote in response, "Our review has not disclosed facts upon which a finding of liability on the part of this agency could be based."

According to the Tuscaloosa News, the pilot reported the failure of the right engine fuel pump and requested air traffic controllers to divert him to the nearest airport. The pilot later reported both of the aircraft's fuel pumps had failed. An air traffic controller reportedly advised the pilot that while there were smaller and closer airports, Tuscaloosa was 20 miles away. The Tuscaloosa airport was actually 29 miles away at the time, according to the lawsuit.

The News suit also said air traffic controllers didn't obtain information from the pilot that could have helped during the emergency, claiming controllers failed to report the weather conditions in Tuscaloosa, failed to treat the aircraft as an emergency, and failed to determine the impact the lack of fuel pump had on the performance of the aircraft.

The lawsuit also reportedly claims an air traffic controller instructed the pilot to remain at a mandatory altitude. "Had the pilot maintained best glide airspeed instead of trying to comply with mandatory altitude instructions, the aircraft would have likely made the runway instead of crashing 1,650 feet short," the attorneys said.