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FAA To Pay $4.5 Million In Torrance Helicopter Accident Settlement

Judge Determined FAA Was 100 Percent Liable In Midair Collision

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 determined.

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 R44.

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 aircraft.)

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 injuries."

"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."

FMI: www.phwlaw.com, Read The NTSB's Probable Cause Report

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