The Response Process for Small Plane Crashes Fails to Address Serious Industry Failings

Small planes are popular for obvious and understandable reasons. Individual and family-sized planes, like those made by Mooney, Cessna, and Piper, have made independent flight accessible to more than just the super-rich.

Unfortunately, these small planes are also one of the most dangerous ways to travel. Companies that design, sell, service, and rent small planes would like to attribute their high accident rate to the limited experience of amateur pilots, but there are very often more sinister factors in play.

The consistent safety failings of this industry arguably have a lot to do with how the official follow-up process for crashes works.

After any small plane crash, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) must complete an investigation and report. This process takes up to two years, even under ideal circumstances. Survivors are often unaware that they can pursue a lawsuit, and an independent investigation, without waiting for this report. In fact, their option to sue may expire before the report is ever published.

To make matters even more frustrating, when the NTSB report does arrive, it will be heavily based on the word of the plane manufacturer, and not legally binding in any way.

A Crash That Killed a Doctor and Professor in Georgia Received Only Minimal Follow-Up

On August 4th, 2013, Dr. Sid Shah and Professor Shama Gamkhar were on their way to Tucker, Georgia from Fernandina Beach in Florida. Shah was piloting, as he often did when the couple visited each other from their separate home cities.

Shah had filed a flight plan, and the couple’s course was being monitored, but Jacksonville Center lost track of them shortly before noon at a height of 5,000 feet. At around that time, witnesses reportedly heard the plane sputtering, and then discovered wreckage a short distance outside Alma.

Both Shah and Gamkhar were killed in the crash.

The plane, a Hawker Beechcraft A36, belonged to a pilot training company called APS Aviation, which means that its maintenance would not have been Shah or Gamkhar’s responsibility, nor within their power.

News reports immediately following the accident alluded to an ongoing investigation, but were not updated with the results. No wrongful death claims appear to have been filed.

There Are Many Parties Responsible for Flight Safety, Other Than the Pilot

For most entities in the aviation industry, pilot error is the most convenient possible explanation for a plane crash. It pins the blame on an individual who is usually not around to argue, while allowing manufacturers, maintenance services, and plane-owning companies to carry on as usual.

That’s why it’s so important for families to insist on examining all possible causes of a plane crash.

As an example, in the Shah and Gamkhar incident, a lawyer could have looked into whether APS Aviation had arranged the craft’s 100-hour inspection on time. These inspections are mandatory for planes that are commercially used for pilot training or passenger transport, and as the name suggests, they must take place once every 100 flight hours.

If the inspection was done on time, then there’s the possibility that the inspection company itself might have been liable for missing a problem.

Finally, it would have been worth examining other Hawker Beechcraft A36s for possible underlying design flaws. Beechcraft is currently owned by Textron, the same parent company as Cessna. In spite of their top-of-the-line reputation, this cluster of brands has a far from exemplary record of putting safety first.

While the opportunity for Shah and Gamkhar’s family to sue for wrongful death has now passed (barring unknown extenuating circumstances), similar small plane crashes continue to happen with tragic regularity and rarely receive the acknowledgement they deserve.

If you have recently been injured or lost someone in a small plane crash in Georgia, reach out to The Stoddard Firm to learn how we can help.

Attorney Matt Stoddard

Atlanta Personal Injury LawyerMatt Stoddard is a professional, hardworking, ethical advocate. He routinely faces some of the nation’s largest companies and some of the world’s largest insurers – opponents who have virtually unlimited resources. In these circumstances, Mr. Stoddard is comfortable. Mr. Stoddard provides his strongest efforts to his clients, and he devotes the firm’s significant financial resources to presenting the strongest case possible on their behalf. Matt understands that his clients must put their trust in him. That trust creates an obligation for Matt to work tirelessly on their behalf, and Matt Stoddard does not take that obligation lightly. [ Attorney Bio ]

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