Attorney sues FAA over 2005 crash



Lawsuit Pins Blame For 2005 Accident On FAA

Attorney Suing Agency For $10 Million
The past seven days have seen three rulings placing responsibility for fatal aircraft accidents at least partly on the shoulders of air traffic controllers, and the FAA. Now, an attorney is suing the FAA for the loss of three people in a 2004 accident near Pikeville, KY, claiming the actions of an air traffic controller were to blame for the fatal crash.

According to the NTSB Probable Cause report, a Beechcraft A36 carrying three persons impacted terrain while on approach to land at Pikeville Airport (PBX) October 7, 2005 in low IFR conditions. The aircraft went down about a mile from the runway, to the left of the approach course to land on runway 27.

Witnesses on the ground reported ceilings of 200-300 feet AGL at the time of the accident – right at decision height for the approach. Lost in the accident were pilot Herman Lester, his wife, Julie and their son, Max.

The NTSB ruled poor weather conditions and pilot error were the probable causes of the accident… but attorney Mike DeBourbon says there’s more to the story.

DeBourbon – who is also PBX Airport Board Chairman – alleges the air traffic controller handling the Beech’s approach to the uncontrolled airport brought the plane in too close to the field for a safe precision approach.

“They brought the aircraft in too early and too high. That placed the pilot in a situation where he could not land into Pikeville safely,” DeBourbon told WKYT-27.

He is suing the FAA for $10 million, and says if he wins the money will go to the family’s living relatives.

DeBourbon says he listened to recordings of Herman Lester’s conversations with the controller handling his flight, and they show the controller gave the pilot incorrect information.

“It’s not a dangerous situation,” DeBourbon told the television station, of reports of fog and rain at the time of the accident. "It only becomes dangerous if you place someone in a hurry.

“They brought the aircraft in too early and too high. That placed the pilot in a situation where he could not land into Pikeville safely,” he added. “Had he not done that, I think the pilot could have made the landing into Pikeville.”

FAA officials said they could not comment on pending litigation.

I wonder if FA staff can pull this track up so that we FA’rs can give our take on the accident?


Final NTSB Report


Dang, makes no sense… This law suit that is.

Pilot reports established on FAC.

At that point, it’s pilots responsibility, NOT ATC to aviate and navigate. Left right guidance sure has nothing to do with being slammed dunked by ATC.

Pilot flubs, based on report, going left of course, yet, that’s ATC’s fault.

Seems we lose all sorts of accountability and our insurance rates go up because of silly stuff like this.

Off my soapbox…



you know - I don’t really know what led to the accident - but I’ll tell you one thing. I would NEVER take my family into known LIFR conditions if there were was ANY way to avoid them.

I’ve flown an approach to 300feet and 3/4 mile and they are not fun. I cannot imagine intentionally taking that chance n a single engine prop. In my case weather was forecast 2000 ceiling and 3 miles vis [VFR] so I left, but it never cleared. If I was taking my family on that trip, knowing what I know about the weather in the area, I would likely not do it again.

Really hard IFR [under 500 and 1] intentionally does not make lots of sense to me in a Bonanza. And I’ve got a coupled GPS autopilot with GPSS steering and a radar altimeter in my Comanche. I can and have done it - I stay current and try to stay proficient by flying under the hood to minimums and occasionally to minimums on non-precision approaches - but why do it in the real world? Those kinds of conditions are rare - and not usually widespread. Here in New England fog like that lasts only in Cape and Islands in summer, or rarely inland, sometimes at night in summer. For gosh sakes - land 30 miles away where the weather is better and drive home. Heck, waitng an hour at an airport, fueling up, eating a meal, the weather clears, and off you go.

Last night, here, ceilings were 500 with 1 mile in haze. 25 miles away inland, it was clear with 7-10 miles. Why take a chance with your family like this guy did. A 200-300 ft ceiling. Thats nuts in a Bo. We don’t know all the facts - but others are right, and wrong. A slam dunk makes a pilot feel rushed - you are trying to get the plane configured, slowed down and then down fast [hard to do together] and then you worry about sink rates and terrain and where you are in the approach - I can see getting a little left or right also. That being said, most Bo’s have pretty good autopilots - this is the time to dial in the NAV hold so there is one less thing to worry about.

Thats how I handle the slam dunk that is not real bad. If it looks like a bad one, I’ll TELL the controller now that I will not accept a slam dunk. I’ll ask for the vector to the hold to lose altitude. Why not? So you land 12 minutes later? You get a stabilized approach that YOU control - instead of being rushed and feeling behind the airplane. Pride is not something to have while the wheels are up. I can feel as good as I want about that approach into a 500 feet ceiling to a squeaker landing, after the engine is off.


The money will go to the family after deducting his legal fees (which are typically in the range of 40%) or is he doing it pro bono - inquiring minds want to know.


I will start another thread on this topic as I would digress from your position not related to this thread.

It will be called IFR - IMC Go - No go tolerances Launch or scrub? under GA. :smiley:


Pro Bono means the lawyer is doing the work for free when the client cannot pay for the lawyer’s services. This kind of work is usually done in criminal defense cases, but can be any case where, regardless of the outcome of the case, the client won’t be able to afford the legal services. You better believe, that since $10M is involved, he AIN’T doin’ the legal stuff for free :smiling_imp:


You, as PIC, can break off an approach at any point. If he didn’t like getting dropped like a coke machine close to the airport why didnt he just request vectors to loose a little more altitude. I was reading in last month’s AOPA Pilot mag an article where the crew decided to do a missed approach before they even got to the outer marker. They had briefed the wrong approach plate and didn’t want to be rushed into a late brief, setup, and procedure, so they went missed.

This lawsuit is one of the more bullshit ones I’ve heard recently.


It ranks right up there with the sole surviving Comair pilot attempting to blame everyone else in his lawsuit. :unamused:


That’s the other bullshit one that came quickly to mind. As well as the whole Cory Lidle debacle.


Oh yeah…that one too…


I never actually read the NTSB report until now.

At that time, the pilot recorded a
total flight experience of approximately 527 hours. The pilot also recorded about 323 hours of
actual instrument experience; however, a review of an excerpt from the logbook revealed that the
pilot logged all of the flight time as “actual instrument.”

Why the hell would he do that? Out of 3000 hours, I have a little more than 200 hours of actual instrument.
The report doesn’t include the radar altitude readouts, which would be interesting to see. I assumed he dropped below the glideslope during his race to get down, I didn’t realize that he just continued below the DH after reaching the DH. Sounds like a botched ILS to me. I still stand by my previous statement about breaking it off if he wasn’t happy with the way ATC vectored him for the approach.


I agree. That is the meaning of Pilot In Command. Only the pilot can make decisions based on the flight situation. Once you abdicate your PIC authority to ATC, you are asking for trouble.

I think that controllers do a great job. They have helped me out of tight situations and corrected my mistakes before they caused problems. Pilots sometimes need to do the same with controllers - we backstop each other. The big difference is that pilots are at “the sharp end of the rope” as climbers call it.


I still do not understand what happened. Did they vectored him to intercept the glide slope from above? If they did, they did a bad job. If they didn’t, there is no such thing as close and high. A non precision approach would be another matter. To be vectored close and high may cause troubles for a piston aircraft and it may be disorienting for a green pilot if he decides to descend at more than 1000 fpm. He either overspeeds or idles down at which point we have to question his vacuum pressure and a state of his equipment. The overload will make him miss the DH. That’s classic. But it was ILS and this should lead him way down the runway anyway.
You guys are absolutely correct to say he was to stabilize it by rejecting the clearance and get vectored properly. The fact he didn’t means he was way behind the power curve, which the controller couldn’t know, since I suspect the pilot didn’t tell him he was losing it. Sadly, I believe it was the pilot error.


Good people have been making bad mistakes for thousands of years. Flying has some obvious risks. Pilots have to set some minimums for themselves to avoid getting into these situations. In this case and most, there were probably multiple warning signs ignored by the ‘pilot in command’.


Blaming the FAA is sort of like blaming the cell phone for the car accident, instead of the driver. It’s sad that the family was lost and yes, very good people make mistakes. I have a friend who had logged hours in the 5 digits and still made a mistake, sadly also fatal. Actually, two friends. It happens. I wonder if the family members who were lost would have wished the lawyer sue on their behalf, and how much that is on the attorney’s conscience.


You’re joking, right? Please tell me you’re joking!


Good question. I think it’s more that yes all attorneys have a conscience and the question is do they listen to it. I don’t personally know all the circumstances in this case so I can’t fully judge the actions of the parties. But I am in the legal field and know a little about what goes on.

Sadly, when lawsuits are filed in any death case, usually the damages claimed are nowhere near what they are when the person(s) suffering are still alive. The damages are higher when people survive because they continue to suffer. For example, in medical malpractice when a patient dies, the damages claimed are not as high as when the patient suffers tremendous injury, is young and has to suffer the rest of their life. An economist is sometimes brought in and future expenses and suffering is calculated to verify the large amount of money claimed, i.e., if they need handicap adjustments to their home, private nursing, etc.

Usually, when damages claimed are extremely large in death cases, it’s when the plaintiff(s) also demand punitive damages, which is essentially called punishment money. Unless the lawyer can prove that surviving familiy members incurred $10 million in actual financial losses, i.e., because of income no longer received by them from the family members lost, they are obviously seeking punitive damages against the FAA since they are claiming so much money. For punitive damages, one must prove negligence and intent and all sorts of no-no’s. This will be very difficult to do and people know it, so many times these cases settle out of court for a lesser amount of money just to make the lawsuit and the expenses of a long, drawn out trial go away. They settle without admitting guilt, solely for financial reasons. Sad, but that’s how it goes.

Since the FAA is a government agency, I didn’t realize that they could even be sued, especially for liability. I guess it’s in the capacity as the employer of the controller. Do controllers carry personal liability insurance like nurses and doctors? It’s kind of sad though that anyone has to sue anyone at all. When a human being makes a mistake, whether it’s the pilot, the controller, or both, the loss of life is punishment enough. If someone is negligent in their job on a routine basis, then remove them from the job.