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 rapidly descend and then lost power.  A ground witness stated that he heard engine noises and saw the plane emerge from the clouds pointed straight down and in a spin. 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 total flight time of 650 hours. He had attended flight training for the Cessna Caravan the June prior to 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 icing 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 the accumulation of ice during the flight.

Slack Davis Sanger represented the estates of the three passengers who were 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 was ultimately adopted by Cessna, and the previous pneumatic system discontinued. The case successfully resolved in a settlement for a confidential sum.

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