Ice Accumulation Issues Results in Private & Small Plane Crash Lawsuit

Case Title: Fry et al. vs. Cessna Aircraft Company

On November 8, 2002, a Cessna 208B Caravan turboprop left Las Vegas, Nevada, bound for Midland, Texas, with three passengers and a pilot. At approximately 10:20 PM, the plane impacted terrain approximately three miles south of Parks, Arizona. At the time, instrument meteorological conditions prevailed. A significant meteorological advisory for severe turbulence due north of the pilot’s route had been issued, and the pilot was warned it might extend into his flight path. The first leg of the flight went smoothly. However, the pilot noted that he was experiencing mixed rain and snow and asked to be cleared for a higher altitude. After ascending to 17,000 feet, an Albuquerque airport controller noted the plane began to descend rapidly and then lost power. A ground witness stated that he heard engine noises and saw the plane emerge from the clouds, pointing straight down and spinning. Another witness who heard area radio transmissions stated that he heard the pilot report that they were “getting ice” and that the pilot sounded scared.

The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with single-engine and multi-engine land ratings. He also held a flight instructor certificate and had accumulated a total flight time of 650 hours. He had attended flight training for the Cessna Caravan the June before the crash. The pilot was fully informed of meteorological conditions pre-flight and continued to request updates during the first part of the flight.

All four people aboard the plane were killed in the accident. Although the NTSB report faulted the pilot for improper flight planning and decision-making in flying into known icing conditions, problems with ice accumulation on Cessna Caravans had long been noted. Between 1987 and 2003, there were 26 ice-related incidents involving Cessna Caravans in the United States. After this crash, the FAA issued at least three airworthiness directives against the Cessna Caravan, all concerning the aircraft’s de-icing system. Further investigation showed that the pneumatic de-icing system was defective, causing ice accumulation during the flight.

Slack Davis Sanger represented the estates of the three passengers killed in the crash. Extensive knowledge of airplane systems allowed the firm to successfully demonstrate the established problems with icing the Cessna Caravan airplanes had exhibited in the past. Ultimately, the plaintiffs proposed an alternative de-icing system design which Cessna ultimately adopted, and the previous pneumatic system was discontinued. The case was successfully resolved in a settlement for a confidential sum.

Mike Slack has been practicing law for over 36 years and has litigated hundreds of lawsuits. His experience as a licensed pilot and former NASA aerospace engineer gives him unique insight into aviation accident lawsuits.

Date of Incident

November 8, 2002

Location of Incident

Flagstaff, Arizona

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