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Tue, Mar 14, 2006

Pilot Says He Was Not PIC In Fatal Accident

Was Only IFR Rated Pilot Aboard

A young Ohio pilot -- the sole survivor of a Beechcraft Bonanza V35 accident in Rock Hill, SC last summer -- says he's been wrongly accused.

Matthew Sullivan, 24, says he was one of three certificated pilots on board the Bonanza (file photo of type, right) July 24, 2005 as it flew from Columbus, OH to Rock Hill. An instrument-rated pilot -- the only one on board, in fact -- Sullivan was flying right seat on the IFR trip.

Shortly after cancelling their IFR flight plan, Sullivan, the plane owner and the other pilot -- who was flying in the left seat -- overshot the airport at Rock Hill by about ten miles, according to the NTSB's Probable Cause report. The aircraft then apparently ran out of fuel on the way back to the strip, crashing about a mile short of the runway.

The NTSB report lists Sullivan as the pilot in command -- but that the pilot in the left seat, Eric Johnson, was actually flying the plane. Sullivan told the Rock Hill Herald that the plane's owner, Eric Coulman, presented Johnson as an Air Force veteran and an experienced pilot.

"I was picturing a 'Top Gun,'" Sullivan said, adding he was not aware Johnson did not have an IFR rating.

After an investigation, the FAA took no action against Sullivan. The man's lawyers, however, say that by listing Sullivan -- who is a flight instructor -- as PIC, the NTSB is scapegoating him -- as well as leaving him open to potential liability action in the future.

For his part, Sullivan -- who is still recovering from his injuries in the accident -- says he does not remember the day of the crash... only the day before, in which he maintains it was decided he was only supposed to be a passenger on the doomed flight.

"Dr. Coulman owned the plane, filed the flight plan and made the decision as to who would fly the aircraft," Sullivan wrote to the NTSB. "Mr. Johnson actually flew the plane knowing he did not have the certification or authority to do so. It would be an injustice to blame me (as an invited guest) for their errors."

Sullivan says he was on his way to a class reunion.

FMI: Read The NTSB Probable Cause Report

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