Mills v. Cessna Aircraft Company

A Cessna 208 Caravan with registration number N9530F crashed shortly after take off from the Dillingham, Alaska airport. The pilot and nine passengers were killed, and the airplane was destroyed. The plane crashed less than a mile from the end of the runway during daylight hours and in visual meteorological conditions. The flight was bound from Dillingham to King Salmon, Alaska.

The first major winter weather of the season passed through Dillingham the night before, bringing light rain and mist, which turned to snow and ice over night. The temperature dropped to 24 degrees F. The Cessna had been parked on the ramp overnight and was subjected to the inclement weather conditions.  Other pilots interviewed about the state of their airplanes on that morning indicated that most had from 1/8 to 1/2 inch patches of clear ice with snow and frost on top.  During the pre-flight check, the accident airplane still had not been de-iced. After fueling the airplane, the PenAir ramp supervisor sprayed a de-icing solution on the plane, but did not check whether all of the surfaces had been cleared of ice. He stated later that he assumed it must have been de-iced because he sprayed “a lot of glycol” on the upper wings.  The pilot was not present for the de-icing, and there is no record of him checking the plane after the ramp supervisor performed the process.

The plane took off and the flight seemed normal at first. However, less than a mile out from the airport, the plane pitched up, rolled more than 90 degrees to the left, and yawed to the left. Finally, the nose of the airplane dropped and the plane crashed nose first into the ground. Post-crash testing indicated that the plane was free from preexisting defects and anomalies. Internal damage to the engine indicated it was operating at impact. The NTSB stated that the probable cause of the accident was upper surface ice contamination. This ice accumulation caused the plane to stall and the pilot to lose control of the plane.  According to the NTSB, both the pilot and the ground crew should have checked the plane more thoroughly for clear ice accumulations prior to take off. In addition, the de-icing fluid used was not consistent with the standards for fluids of this sort.

Slack Davis Sanger represented the estate of the pilot in this case. The focus of the plaintiff’s case was the long history of icing problems in Cessna Caravan aircraft. Cessna had studied the susceptibility of the Caravan to ice and other surface accumulations since the 1990’s. In spite of this knowledge, Cessna failed to make design changes or even amend their pilot training or manuals to address the importance of thorough de-icing. Slack Davis Sanger’s depth of expertise in airplane design helped to secure a settlement for the pilot’s estate.

Date of Incident

August 19, 2020

Location of Incident

Dillingham, Alaska

Media Coverage

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