July 8, 2009
OKLAHOMA CITY – Five people died when an airplane collided with a flock of pelicans, and the family of two of them says the Oklahoma City Airport Trust, the state Department of Airports and Oklahoma City are responsible, because they failed to comply with federal aviation regulations.
All five occupants, including pilot Timothy Alan Hartman and Rickie D. Sandoval, were killed in the crash just after takeoff from Wiley Post Airport, a reliever airport for Will Rogers World Airport, in March 2008, according to the lawsuit in Oklahoma County Court.
The Cessna Citation CE-500 jet collided with a flock of “very large” American white pelicans over Lake Overholser in Oklahoma City. The birds destroyed control surfaces on the aircraft’s horizontal stabilizer, causing the plane to “immediately invert into an uncontrollable, nose-down attitude and descend at a high rate into a wooded area” about 3 miles from the airport, where it crashed and caught fire, according to the complaint.
Hartman’s and Sandoval’s families say the defendants, as sponsors of Wiley Post Airport, a public-use airport that receives federal money, failed to comply with FAA regulations and failed to follow standards provided by the International Civil Aviation Organization and bird-strike experts.
Will Rogers World Airport has a full-time biologist and detailed Wildlife Hazard Management Plan, but Wiley Post airport employs no operations staff and has no wildlife plan, the families say. When birds are reported to Air Traffic Control, they try to harass the birds away from the runways by firing blanks and pyrotechnics.
A 1998 Wildlife Hazard survey of Lake Overholser and nearby reservoirs, lakes and creeks, conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, found the areas to attract thousands of migratory birds and gulls.
The FAA’s Wildlife Strike Database included 11 reported bird strikes for planes taking off from Wiley Post Airport before the crash, and this was only 20 to 25 percent of the strikes that actually occurred, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
The Bird Avoidance Model, a system developed by the Air Force to provide a relative probability (low, moderate or severe) of bird strikes for a particular geographical area based on historical data, indicated a “moderate” risk of bird strikes in the area at the time of the accident, according to the complaint.
The families seek damages for breach of duty, lost income, loss of consortium, and pain and suffering. They are represented by Kevin Hill with the Homsey Law Center.