[ul][li]The pilot of a Beechcraft Bonanza could not verify that his landing gear was down and locked, so he communicated his problem to the controller.[/li][li]Another Bonanza and a Cessna 172 were operating in the area.[/li][li]The gear-trouble Bonanza flew away from the airport to try to resolve the problem.[/li][li]Miles away from the gear-trouble Bonanza, the other Bonanza and the Cessna collided resulting in fatal injuries to both pilots and the passengers of the Cessna.[/li][li]The estate of the pilot of the accident Bonanza brought suit against the gear-trouble Bonanza pilot and was awarded $2 million.[/ul][/li]The plaintiffs charged that the pilot of the gear-trouble Bonanza distracted the pilots of the accident Bonanza and the Cessna by overuse of the radio, as did the controller on the ground. The controller stated that the gear-trouble Bonanza pilot did not interfere with her abilities to perform her duties, did not disrupt, distract or confuse her, and that that if the pilot had used the frequency excessively she would have told him to maintain radio silence.
The defense also brought forth an expert witness who had been the chairman of the aviation department of a leading university, and had been an FAA designated examiner for 32 years. He opined that the gear-trouble Bonanza pilot’s actions were consistent with federal regulations and safety guidelines and that the pilot’s actions were appropriate.
The claimants produced a witness who held himself out to be an expert in air traffic control and pilot and airport operations. He felt that the pilot of the gear-trouble Bonanza used the frequency excessively. The pilot used the frequency for a total of 36 minutes over 163 transmissions. Ninety-three transmissions were before the collision of the other two aircraft (of which he initiated 31), and 70 were after (of which he initiated 35). The claimants also produced an accident reconstruction expert who was a USAF fighter pilot for 27 years who said that the pilot of the gear-trouble Bonanza should have just lowered the landing gear manually and not talked on the radio so much.
The jury found for the paintiffs.
I was taught that it is the pilot’s responsibility to ‘see and avoid’ other aircraft, and that distractions are not allowed. My (airplane) instructor and (helicopter) examiner both commented favourably when I asked them to stand by while I dealt with a simulated emergency and rising terrain. I’ve also flown in very busy airspace where a pilot can scarcely get a word in on the frequency. Even if another pilot is causing a distraction (and in this case, from what I read, I don’t think he was) it is the responsibility of all other pilots in the area not to run into each other. (We’re talking VFR here.) So I think the fault lies with the pilots of the accident aircraft, and not with the pilot who was miles away; and I think the jury made the wrong decision.
The article is in the July 2006 issue of AOPA Pilot in the Pilot Council column.