An air traffic controller employed by a private company was negligent in clearing a small plane for flight from the airport in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, according to a recent lawsuit. Bucklin v. Serco, Inc., No. 2:13-cv-00052, complaint (D. Wyo., Mar. 4, 2013). The plane crashed in the mountains, killing everyone on board. The plaintiff, who is the ex-wife of the pilot and mother of the three other victims, seeks to hold the air traffic control service provider liable for its employee’s alleged negligence. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that the pilot was probably responsible for the crash, but also found fault with the air traffic controller’s decisions.
The pilot decided to fly home from Wyoming to Minnesota with his three sons on October 25, 2010 after a commercial flight was canceled due to a snowstorm. After taking off from Jackson Hole in his 1977 single-engine Mooney M20J propellor plane, he reportedly had difficulty maintaining altitude over the Wind River Range. According to flight recordings, he tried to radio that he was “descending rapidly” shortly before crashing. He also reported “mountain waves,” wind currents that occur over mountain ranges that can suck down airplanes flying too low. Following an extensive search lasting about a week, mountain climbers found the plane and the four victims in the vicinity of Lander, Wyoming.