Investigators at the scene of a plane crash at Oakland County International Airport in Waterford Township in June 2013. (Max Ortiz / The Detroit News)
Pontiac— The son of one of four people killed in a June 21 airplane crash is suing the estate of the dead pilot — also his stepbrother — and the plane’s owner, Flight 101, for negligence.
Steven James Haley, acting as the personal representative of the estate of James Ray Haley, is suing Flight 101 and the estate of Troy Michael Brothers, the 19-year-old pilot, alleging both had a duty to assure Brothers had enough experience to operate the aircraft. James Ray Haley is survived by two sons, Steven and James Jr., both of Warren.
The Oakland Circuit Court wrongful death lawsuit notes Brothers had obtained his pilot’s license at Western Michigan University just weeks before the crash.
The family had recently celebrated the license certification and also Brothers’ acceptance to the U.S. Naval Academy. The young pilot rented the Cessna aircraft at Oakland International Airport in Waterford Township to take relatives, including his stepfather, out for a brief flight.
The elder Haley, 58, a successful Macomb County real estate broker, married Brothers’ mother, Sandra Haley, 53, six years prior. She and another relative, Jamie Jose, 34, a South Lyon Township firefighter, also perished on the ill-fated flight.
“It was a tragic event and these are always made sadder when family has to take legal action against family,” said attorney David W. Christensen, who filed the complaint. “But we are following the facts and the law. Actions have consequences.”
The lawsuit alleges both Brothers and Flight 101 never conducted a pre-flight checklist inspection of the aircraft, which would have included operation of wing flaps that should have been up or retracted prior to takeoff. The apparent oversight, subsequently taking off with the plane’s flaps still fully extended, caused a “lack of thrust or attaining altitude on takeoff,” according to the complaint.
That contention also squares with a probable cause report released Monday by the National Transportation Board, which investigates all plane accidents. The federal agency cited pilot error and his failure to retract the wing flaps.
Officials at Flight 101 were out of the country on Thursday and could not be reached for comment, according to an office employee.
According to NTSB records reviewed by The Detroit News, Oakland International control tower personnel saw the Cessna lift off the runway and attain an altitude of about 100 feet when Brothers radioed back he was “a little overweight” and would need to return and land.
Brothers was then cleared on a runway or adjacent grass area but “there was no reply,” according to the NTSB report. The airplane could be heard “spittering and sputtering” by witnesses on the ground and crashed and caught fire within five seconds.
A logbook kept by pilots was never located nor was a flight plan filed, according to the lawsuit.
Brothers had reportedly logged more than 52 hours including dual instruction to obtain his license, primarily flying a Cirrus SR 20 single-engine aircraft. He had reportedly flown a Cessna 172 “for a few hours while he was in Florida,” according to an unsubstantiated NTSB report.
Investigators found no mechanical problems with the aircraft which had been flown just hours earlier. The Cessna has a maximum allowable gross weight of 2,300 pounds and with the four deceased had an estimated gross weight of 2,298.5 pounds.
In an interview with investigators, another pilot, Mark Ebben, said he was landing his own aircraft and noticed Brothers’ Cessna taking off and then attempting to return to the airport because he was overweight.
“While continuing my final (approach) I looked again down the runway and saw him just wallowing in the air with flaps extended ... I could not believe what I was witnessing. Very shortly then, the left wing dipped, the aircraft fell out of the sky hitting left wing 1st then pivoting 180 degrees with a big divot of dirt thrown up in the air.”
The lawsuit, which seeks more than $25,000 in damages, is assigned to Judge Martha D. Anderson.