Judge Determined FAA Was 100 Percent Liable In Midair
The Federal Aviation Administration
agreed this week to pay $4.5 million in damages to the survivor,
Gavin Heyworth, of the November 6, 2003 helicopter crash at
Torrance Municipal Airport (TOA).
As ANN reported, in early May 2008 a
California judge ruled air traffic controllers at TOA were
primarily responsible for the November 2003 midair collision of two
helicopters in front of the airport's control tower -- and not one
of the pilots, as the National Transportation Safety Board
US District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper ruled that tower
controllers Edward Weber and Cynthia Issa made a series of
incorrect and negligent decisions that led to the crash, which
killed pilots Robert Bailey and Brett Boyd onboard a Robinson
Gavin Heyworth was making a student solo instructional flight in
a Robinson R22 at the time of the accident. He survived the
crash... but suffered severe injuries, requiring doctors to put him
into an induced coma for six weeks while they operated to repair
numerous broken bones.
The NTSB later determined Heyworth was at fault -- saying the
student did not comply with tower instructions in the pattern, and
did not notify controllers he was a student pilot. (The latter is
not legally required; the NTSB report infers had Heyworth told
controllers of his limited flight experience, they would have
vectored him in order to keep him farther away from other
In her ruling, however, Judge Cooper ruled the pilots in each
helicopter had, in fact, "properly relied upon and complied with
the control instruction they were given by" controller Weber, who
briefly was the sole controller on duty watching both runways at
TOA, as well as monitoring traffic around the field.
According to the law firm Pocrass, Heimanson & Wolf, Cooper
ruled the FAA was "100 percent liable" for the crash, due to
"controller error and negligence." The law firm notes a recording
of the taped instructions given by the controllers "clearly shows
two confused traffic controllers not communicating with each other
and giving inaccurate instructions to the pilots that culminated in
the death of two people and in the third receiving severe life-long
"For the last five years Gavin's life has been centered around
healing and this trial," said plaintiff attorney James Pocrass. "My
wish is that this settlement allows Gavin closure so he can go on
with his life. Unfortunately, though only 27 years old, Gavin will
live with the pain of his injuries for the rest of his life."
With the ruling of 100 percent liability, the court concurred
that the air traffic controllers were negligent for the crash due
to a series of errors made while the helicopters were in controlled
air space. The court also determined the control tower was short
one controller, and there was only one controller responsible for
the airspace over the two runways.
"We were able to demonstrate that fault resided solely with the
controllers," says Jeffrey Wolf, co-counsel on the Heyworth case.
"The controllers' instructions to the pilots placed the two
helicopters on a collision course, and, from their respective
positions, the pilots could not see one another."