The parents of a man who died in a plane crash in East Palo Alto in February filed a lawsuit Tuesday (Aug. 17) alleging that the plane's pilot, who also died in the crash, was negligent in taking off even though heavy fog created dangerous conditions.
The suit was filed by Paul and Barbara Ingram, the parents of 31-year-old Andrew Ingram of Palo Alto, and seeks unspecified damages from the estate of 56-year-old pilot Douglas Bourn and the company he ran, Air Unique Inc.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the twin-engine Cessna 310 that Bourn piloted struck power lines and a PG&E tower at 7:54 a.m. on Feb. 17.
The plane was about 50 feet above the ground and had just departed from the Palo Alto Municipal Airport. It was heading to Hawthorne, Calif.
All three men on the plane -- Ingram, Bourn and 42-year-old Brian Finn of East Palo Alto -- died in the crash. They all worked for Tesla Motors of Palo Alto.
No one on the ground was injured.
The lawsuit, which was filed in San Mateo County Superior Court by Burlingame attorney Frank Pitre, alleges: "This crash was foreseeable and avoidable had the owner and operator of the aircraft (Bourn) demonstrated concern for the safety of his passengers, instead of blatant disregard for his lack of recent flying experience, poor weather and the condition of his aircraft before deciding to embark on a risky take-off."
The suit also states: "Bourn knew that the airport and surrounding area was shrouded in dense fog, with visibility limited to one-eighth of a mile."
It alleges that Bourn was warned on two separate occasions by an air traffic controller at the Palo Alto airport that he was not cleared for take-off "because the runway was not visible."
The suit says Bourn was instructed to turn right within 1 mile of taking off but instead turned left and struck the high-voltage power lines.
Ingram's parents, who live in Ferndale, Wash., have suffered damages "from the loss of love, companionship, comfort, affection, society, solace and moral support of their son," the lawsuit states.
A third plaintiff in the suit is Kathleen Trafton, the administrator of Andrew Ingram's estate. The suit says she has been forced to incur funeral and burial expenses and other economic losses.
Joshua Cawthra, lead aviation accident investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), told the Weekly on Aug. 11 that the investigation into the cause of the crash is still ongoing. A report is expected by the end of the year, he said.
Pitre said that although NTSB's report is not complete, communications with the pilot and the control tower on the day of the accident show key facts that have resulted in filing the suit.
"The control tower clearly instructed the pilot to take off at his own risk. ... The pilot exhibited extremely reckless judgment," he said.
Pitre said the plaintiffs will want to see the log books and to have independent experts examine the wreckage, regardless of the NTSB report.
"We believe there will be important information that could include the instrumentation and functioning of the aircraft and if there were maintenance and design issues. Those are questions hopefully NTSB will look into," he said.
The three crash victims were on their way to Tesla Motors facilities in southern California when the crash occurred. Tesla Motors has not been implicated in the lawsuit, Pitre said. Other defendants could be named, "but it's all premature until we get evidence," he said.
Attorneys for Bourn's estate and Air Unique Inc. could not be reached.