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Widows File Federal Lawsuits Over 2004 Crash

Alleges ATC Error, Negligence

The widows of three Indiana men killed in an October 2004 crash in Missouri have sued the federal government. Three separate and individual suits charge controllers directed the aircraft into a dangerous thunderstorm causing the crash.

All suits challenge a government investigation claiming pilot William M. Shearer lost control of the Beechcraft A36. As Aero-News reported, Shearer -- along with passengers Dr. Ronald D. Kracke and Armand H. McClintock -- perished during the flight from South Dakota to Indiana.

Air traffic controllers in Minneapolis vectored Shearer south of his original flight path to avoid a line of storms. Reportedly, the A36 turned east at 8:10 pm, and was handed off to a new controller in Kansas City, who erred by not giving any more weather guidance. The lawsuits claim by 8:36 pm, the plane disappeared off radar as it flew into a thunderstorm, according to the Indianapolis Star.

A commercial pilot witness told the NTSB, "Aircraft spun out of clouds, began recovery, hit the ground, [and] burst of flame immediately." The NTSB stated in its probable report, "The pilot not maintaining airplane control during cruise flight. Factors present were night and thunderstorm conditions."

"The question is why," said Bruce Kehoe, an attorney representing Kimberly Fox, McClintock's wife. "Is it weather-related? And would timely and accurate weather information from air traffic controllers have made a difference? Our contention is yes."

FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory and all three plaintiffs declined comment to the Indianapolis Star.

US government attorneys blamed the pilot's "negligent conduct" and said air traffic controllers "exercised due care and diligence at all times." Joseph Bosco, a Chicago attorney representing Kracke's Susan, said Shearer followed all instructions and suggestions given by controllers.

Presiding Judge David F. Hamilton must decide if controllers are responsible when they provide weather guidance to pilots who don't have on-board radar. Shearer did not.

"We're going to help every pilot out there as much as we can," said Howard Blankenship, the Central Region vice president for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. He said ATCs primary role, however, is to keep aircraft from colliding.

The suits do not specify the amount of damages being sought, but a statement filed with the court in January indicates Susan Kracke is asking for $6 million.

FMI: www.ntsb.gov

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