District Court Rules Civil Air Patrol Negligent in 2014 LaGrange Airport Crash; $12M Judgment

CAP Lt Col David Mitchell, Georgia WingCAP Lt Col David Mitchell, Georgia Wing

By Major Keillor | AuxBeacon News Contributor

[Editor’s Note: AuxBeacon contributors are noting that many of the external news articles on this accident do not mention Civil Air Patrol involvement with the glider on the crossing runway. This is similar to how Civil Air Patrol was not mentioned by name in the crash of CAP glider N342BA in Deatsville last month. One or more CAP flight instructors involved in this fatal crash were still flying CAP gliders with cadets at Roosevelt Field in the spring of 2017. Apparently CAP Flight Instructor Check Pilots can describe themselves as passengers.]

On February 22, 2014, Jeffrey Van Curtis was killed in an airplane crash [N36638] at the LaGrange-Callaway Airport in LaGrange, Georgia. Curtis’s widow, Plaintiff Karen J. Curtis, and the administrator of his estate, Plaintiff Robert Rupenthal, brought this lawsuit against the United States of America pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”). Plaintiffs allege that negligence by the Civil Air Patrol—a United States Air Force Auxiliary—caused the crash that killed Curtis and fellow passengers Michael Rossetti and Willy Lutz.

On August 3rd, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia Newnan Division delivered a 41 page ruling on this accident. It found that CAP breached its duty in its glider operations at Lagrange-Callaway. It neglected a risk of collision by failing to use a spotter despite the obstructed views between the runways. Such a duty to make its flight operations safe existed irrespective of the applicability of the local airport rule requiring a spotter during glider operations. The CAP pilots failed to yield the right-of-way to the Baron, as required by 14 C.F.R. § 91.113(g). And as previously discussed, see supra Part I.H., the CAP pilots apparently did not announce their flight plans over the CTAF, and they either did not hear or failed to appreciate the Baron’s announcement over the CTAF that it was preparing to land. In these ways CAP breached the duty of all pilots to generally act with reasonable care, and specifically to cede the right-of-way to landing aircraft.

CAP Lt Col Joel Seidband of [Peachtree City-Falcon Field Composite Squadron], a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and CAP pilot was pilot in command of the Cessna 172 tow plane. CAP Lt Col Pete Schulz, also a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and CAP pilot, was pilot-in-command of the glider. CAP Lt Col David Mitchell, a US Navy Captain and Lockheed P-3 Orion pilot with more than 3,000 hours, who is also a CAP pilot and CAP flight instructor, was seated in the rear seat of the glider “as a passenger”. The CAP 172 and the glider had just completed a successful flight practicing a simulated rope-break which would seem to indicate a CAP Glider Form 5 check-ride was taking place and that the “passenger” was making use of flight instructor qualifications as a CAP check pilot.

CAP’s breach of duty caused the Baron crash. Kenyon and Lott’s testimony establish that just before the Baron would have touched down, its engines suddenly increased to full power. At that time, the Baron was in a position from which Rossetti would have first been able to observe the CAP aircraft approaching from the left. The Court concludes from this evidence that Rossetti saw the CAP aircraft and made an attempt to avoid a collision. This maneuver by Rossetti, while the Baron was configured for landing, ultimately caused it to pitch up sharply, stall, roll over, and then crash. See supra Part I.H.  Thus, the crash was a direct result of the CAP aircraft’s presence on runway 3/21, which itself was a result of a breach of duty by CAP.

Finally, it is uncontroverted that the injuries suffered by Plaintiffs’ decedent were caused by the crash of the Baron. While the extent of those damages will be discussed in further detail, the Court concludes that CAP was negligent under Georgia law and is thus liable under the FTCA claim.

For the foregoing reasons, the Clerk is directed to enter Judgment in favor of Plaintiff Robert Rupenthal and against the United States in the amount of $177,084.14. The Clerk is further directed to enter Judgment in favor of Plaintiff Karen J. Curtis and against the United States in the amount of $11,797,609. The Clerk shall then close this case.

IT IS SO ORDERED this 3d day of August, 2017.

Timothy C. Batten, Sr.
United States District Judge

Related Stories:
Fatal Accident Occurred February 22, 2014 at LaGrange Callaway Airport
Georgia Plane Crash Kills 3 Peachtree City Men
In Reprisal Georgia Wing Commander Closes Rome Squadron
Judge Awards $11.9 Million in Suit Against Civil Air Patrol
Three Killed in Georgia Plane Crash as Aircraft ‘Tried to Avoid Hitting a Glider’

16 Comments on "District Court Rules Civil Air Patrol Negligent in 2014 LaGrange Airport Crash; $12M Judgment"

  1. I hate that so much of my dues money is going to pay off people who were harmed in this organization because they wanted to do the cover-up rather than remove a favorite son or daughter. Keep making this known!

  2. You have not found and released all the legal material yet? Check your contact email.

  3. Your authors need to buy CAP leaders some nice heels, makeup, lipstick a few dresses and a nice dinner if you are going to release articles like this on them.

  4. An interesting and ignoble outcome for Orion P-3 David.

  5. I can suck your soul.

  6. We have really been kept in the dark on this. Is there more to come?

  7. Gotta love the folks who think they are above the rules. I always see them CAP pilots not care for traffic patterns, not make radio calls, ignore ATC, etc. I was flying up Lake Michigan while two CAP planes were doing SAR or a SAREX. They kept getting on collision courses with other aircraft, were ignoring ATC (claiming they had switched to Air-to-air to talk to other CAP planes; they did not tell ATC that they were switching). One was directly in the sun to me (according to direction driven by ATC on FF), but had switched frequencies without telling ATC so I had to descend to keep them from hitting me.

  8. This is beyond tragic and has a root cause in the CAP culture, or lack of leadership.

    I found this website when I searched for the court ruling and I am shocked by the various articles I found here. I wonder if anyone at the national level even reads these or is concerned beyond their paycheck (blame the volunteers).

    When I joined I was appalled at the reverence we pay to military folk or professionals or even legislators. There is NO background checking and someone waves a magic wand and they are automatic senior officers. And so some talented low life comes along and the culture is to be quiet and the “senior” officers know better.

    What I see is lack of leadership, lack of teamwork, lack of a culture of service, lack of understanding of how volunteers work, and on and on. Why would a Navy pilot, who has almost no time in a Cessna, automatically get Lt Col, command wings, and be quickly given mission pilot status and then fly cadets?

    We don’t fly jets. We don’t fly choppers. Experience in those air-frames is night and day different than a small C172. Commercial pilot? Really? same thing.

    There is certainly some expertise to be shared, but why the reverence and b*** kissing?
    Many of the “senior” officers in my squadron have only military or commercial experience and there is no way I’d fly with them. They are used to a crew chief and lots of support staff. These people do NOT know what a team is and they are beyond arrogant. The military folk treat us “non” military as beneath contempt and we are ignored and repeatedly told how insignificant we are.

    This is NOT the military. CAP leadership schools (as few and bad as they are) at least are CAP focused. This is NOT air war college. This is NOT being paid and living in the O club. Put some former military guy in charge (like we have) and he is lost in CAP and has no idea, but has the arrogance to not ask and no even try beyond thinking we all stand ready for inspection.

    What I see in CAP are a lot of overweight wanna be people and a lot of arrogant has been people and a very very very few who actually do any work.

    Lots of talk. More talk. Lots of war stories. And little gets done.

    And then you have the former enlisted folk who like to inspect the cadets, actually drill the cadets, treat cadets like a training movie, and have no clue that cadets are in a program to LEARN TO LEAD.

    Wonder why cadets leave? Wonder why talented leadership quits?

    Quit the reverence paid to some of these pampered groups. Actually check to see that they can lead and inspire and not just parade around. To me these are the FAKE members of the squadron. They do very little and are very arrogant and unsafe.

    All this does is breed lack of team spirit, lack of cooperation, lack of motivation, and will lead to more of these lawsuits because of the arrogance and lack of SMALL aircraft experience and lack of SMALL aircraft oversight and lack of LEADERSHIP.

    So far CAP has not impressed me much locally.

  9. Hey Aux Beacon, check your inbox.

    I just sent you a picture of Richard Greenwood awarding Joel Seidband the 2015 Georgia Wing pilot of the year award which obviously comes after the 2014 LaGrange crash.

  10. Yikes, Joel Seidband is currently the Aviation Safety Inspector (Simulation Specialist) at Federal Aviation Administration.

  11. What a tragedy! Intersecting runways on uncontrolled fields are incredibly hazardous!

    I am not surprised that CAP pilots were unaware of airport procedures, particularly if they were not “locals”. Compounding the challenges here is that often airport management isn’t really up on their own procedures. “It’s never been a problem before…” is the unspoken attitude among many locals and visitors. Regardless, glider ops were hauling cadets and conducting training. At the same time non-mission aircraft were landing and departing from the intersecting runway… Those facts alone placed a higher duty on the CAP organization to assure the highest standards of safety were met. Based on the NTSB reports and the findings of the Court CAP failed to meet the challenge.

    I can easily see how the Baron’s pilot would react with surprise and aggressive action if an aircraft on a collision course suddenly appeared before him. According to the Docket, witnesses said they heard the Baron announce inbound. The same witnesses stated unequivocally that the CTAF was congested by trivial CAP chatter. It’s easy to imagine the Baron’s inbound call would be lost in the noise. I can also understand how a lightly loaded Baron would respond in a totally unexpected, never before experienced manner when max power was demanded while in a stable descent, trimmed with only finger tip forces required for complete control, and on the profile to land. Twins and many singles become tigers that demand all of our strength, and maybe that of our copilot, to acquire and hold a safe climb attitude under those circumstances.

    I am VERY interested to see how CAP responds to this ruling. I hope there is a national stand down where we can delve deeply into the root causes of this accident. IMHO, this teachable moment goes well beyond the CAP glider program! I’ve followed this accident since the preliminary report first appeared in the NTSB DB. It was indeed another lesson gifted to the living, written in the blood of the three men who died. May they Rest In Peace.

  12. As a former CAP Mission Pilot in the Rhode Island Wing, I was tasked to relocate one of the aircraft from OQU to PVD as OQU was being closed for an airshow. While performing the pre-flight inspection and draining the fuel sumps, the strainer became filled with water. Both tanks were contaminated with water. When I checked the top of the wing I noticed that both fuel tank covers had been left off. Checking the flight log I noticed that the previous flight was 3 days prior. The last 2 day weather was torrential rain. I grounded the plane and the Maintenance Officer, Major Christopher Pete, instructed me to “just shake the wings to displace the water and fly the plane”. I immediately entered the grounding and notified the wing commander at that time. Upon investigation we found that the last pilot to fly the aircraft was the Maintenance Officer Pete. We had to have maintenance fly in from Fitchburg and upon doing so we were notified that the air craft was grounded indefinitely as all of the fuel lines were contaminated. Just another example of the gross incompetence of the organization.

  13. I was a former member of the Rhode Island wing as a check pilot, examiner for form 5 and form 91 check rides. As a former airline and corporate pilot plus a FAA designated check pilot, I quit CAP because of the disregard of safety. When safety violations were reported, I was threatened with dismissal if I continued to report safety violations. I am not surprised with so many CAP accidents or violations.

  14. There is evidence that these arrogant USAF/USN retiree CAP members were warned multiple times by lower-ranking officers about sloppiness and rushed operations. It would seem that some CAPers have an attitude of “shit happens on our Air Force missions, but the attorneys will deal with it and the US taxpayer will pay the damages.”

    At the same time CAP maneuvers to prevent the public from clearly seeing the poor track record by imploring or intimidating journalists to withhold the Civil Air Patrol name from reports of incidents and accidents.

    That’s a nice deal if you can get it.

  15. “What makes this case so tragic is that it was such a needless accident. It was really a case of clear negligence by the government pilots,” Partin said. “Had they just followed the rules at the local airport this accident would never have happened. Had they just had a spotter as required by local airport rules to inform them of incoming air traffic, there never would never have been an imminent collision.”

    “What was more frustrating was that the Civil Air Patrol pilots knew about rules, discussed whether they should abide by rules, and decided the rules didn’t apply to them.”

    http://www.dailyreportonline.com/id=1202795092726/Judge-Awards-119-Million-in-Suit-Against-Civil-Air-Patrol

  16. This is only one of the deceased. Does anyone know if CAP settle out of court for the other two?

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