Improper De-Icing Results in Private & Small Plane Crash Lawsuit

Case Title: Mills v. Cessna Aircraft Company

A Cessna 208 Caravan with registration number N9530F crashed shortly after take off from the Dillingham Airport in Alaska. 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 overnight. The temperature dropped to 24 degrees Fahrenheit. The Cessna had been parked on the ramp overnight and was subjected to 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 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 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 from the airport, the plane pitched up, rolled more than 90 degrees to the left, and twisted 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 accident’s probable cause 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 before 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 1990s. Despite 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.

Ladd Sanger is an attorney and a licensed pilot who focuses on aviation accidents, including product liability, product litigation, and representing clients who have been injured as a result of aviation accidents. His experience as a pilot helps him understand the technical aspects of aviation crashes.

Date of Incident

October 10, 2001

Location of Incident

Dillingham, Alaska

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