As mentioned earlier here and here, the Cory Lidle airplane crash last October was a tragedy through and through. The young wives of Lidle and his flight instructor, Tyler Stanger, no longer have husbands. Very young children may never be able to remember their fathers. My heart goes out to these families for the losses they will always feel.
But as also mentioned earlier, the case compounded tragedy with bitter farce when a lawyer representing the families sued Cirrus Design Corporation of Duluth, Mn., which made the small SR-20 airplane the men were flying, for "wrongful death" in somehow having caused them to crash the plane into a building on the Upper East Side. (Disclosure: I owned and flew the same kind of airplane for six years, until I sold it before moving to China last fall.)
At the time, everything about the lawsuit seemed like ambulance-chasing in the purest and crassest sense.
Nothing that was known about the incident indicated that the airplane had been defective in any way. Everything that was known conformed to one heartbreaking conclusion: that the pilots had gotten themselves into a very tricky "box canyon" situation, and made a tragically flawed decision about how to get out.
(In essence: to avoid charging into LaGuardia's airspace without a clearance, they tried to make a U-turn over the East River. But to pull off this maneuver successfully, without drifting over Manhattan, they would have had to make a "minimum radius turn" almost perfectly. This would have involved: slowing the airplane down, using the full width of the river by starting at one edge rather than the middle, and making a U-turn to the right, into the cross-wind from the east and thus minimizing their drift over the ground, rather than turning left, with the wind, so that both the turn and the wind carried them toward the city.)
Nonetheless the lawyer for the families claimed that when all the facts came out, the negligent design of the plane would be revealed as the true culprit. His specific claim was that Cirrus aircraft had a "record" of crashes caused by faulty aileron controls, and that the controls could have jammed in a way that made it impossible to get the plane out of its disastrous last turn.
Now the National Transportation Safety Board has issued its "Final Report" about the crash. On every point it reaffirmed the previous "box canyon" interpretation of the case. In every way it dismissed the claims the lawyer had been making. The deadpan official finding was this:
The National Transportation Safety Board today determined that the probable cause of a small airplane crash in Manhattan last October was the pilots' inadequate planning, judgment, and airmanship in the performance of a 180-degree turn maneuver inside of a limited turning space.
"This accident is a great tragedy in which a pleasure flight went horribly wrong and ultimately cost the lives of two young men," said NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker. "The pilots placed themselves in a precarious situation that could have been prevented by better judgment and planning."
What about the "defective" airplane, and thus the "wrongful deaths"? "In its final report, the Board stated that there were no system, structural or engine malfunctions found."
The deaths of these young men were indeed wrongful, but in a cosmic and humane sense, rather than any fashion involving tort law. And not in a way any legal action can make right.
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