Report: Pilot ran out of fuel before June fatal crash in Detroit
A report released this week confirmed that an 18-year-old pilot flew too long and ran out of fuel before crashing last summer in Detroit, bringing down a power line that electrocuted a bystander.
The unnamed 18-year-old pilot crashed a Cessna model 150L single-engine airplane around 9 p.m. June 27 near Shoemaker and Cooper on the east side, officials said in a National Transportation Safety Board accident report.
Theresa Surles, 38, was outside her apartment, preparing to attend the Detroit Ford Fireworks show downtown when she was electrocuted by a live wire brought down by the crashing aircraft. She died July 6, more than a week later.
The pilot suffered minor scrapes and was able to climb out of the plane.
An inspector with the Federal Aviation Administration discovered the left fuel tank was empty and the right fuel tank had residual fuel. There were no anomalies with the engine.
The plane was registered to Drake Aerial Enterprises LLC and operated by Air America Aerial Ads, according to the NTSB report. It crashed as the pilot was returning to Coleman A. Young International Airport on the city's east side, officials said last week. He had been towing a banner above crowds gathered downtown to watch the fireworks on the riverfront.
Surles' family filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against Drake Aerial in September, according to court records. Also named in the complaint is "John Doe," since the pilot's name has not been released.
"Defendant John Doe was negligent in his operation of the Defendant’s plane and further failed to manage the fuel system properly during a banner tow operation resulting in a loss of engine power due to fuel starvation," attorneys said in the complaint.
Drake Aerial company policy dictated that banner-tow flights should be limited to between two hours and 30 minutes and two hours and 45 minutes, according to the crash report and complaint. The flight lasted more than three hours before it crashed.
"The accident pilot had received a verbal briefing, within a month of the accident, that covered the company's policy regarding the maximum allowable flight duration," crash report officials said.
Drake Enterprises was named in the lawsuit because the pilot was "acting within the scope of his employment" at the company.
A jury trial is scheduled for Jan. 9, 2018.
"There are no developments yet," said Jim Craig, an attorney for Surles' family. "We filed the complaint, they filed an answer. We're still reviewing (the crash report)."
Drake Enterprises denied all allegations in its response to the complaint, filed in November.
According to the crash report, the company has agreed to install cockpit placards in all their banner-tow planes to reinforce company policy of limiting flights to under two hours and 45 minutes.