Miami Lawsuit: Air Traffic Controllers Caused Plane Crash, Couple's Death

Just after midnight last November, Gordon and Barbara Taylor climbed into a privately-chartered, two-propeller airplane at Key West International Airport. Gordon, age 51, had a bad kidney and was on his way to surgery in Gainesville. So the small plane took off northbound in the darkness.

As they approached the Gainesville Regional Airport, their pilot hit a thick layer of fog. One mile away, the plane struck a patch of trees, crashed to the ground, and killed them.

Their college-aged daughters have now filed a lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration for negligence. Their contention: Air traffic controllers should have communicated the poor weather conditions.

The lawsuit -- which was filed in Miami on November 17 -- asserts, "[They]]failed to properly monitor this flight and provide information and instruction." Julia and Kyle, the daughters, now seek over $75,000 in damages.

They live in Key West and did not want to be interviewed, but their Miami-based lawyer Ira Leesfield told the Key West Keynoter: "They're strong, intelligent and talented young ladies, but their whole heritage, their whole family was wiped out in a single moment."

Shortly after takeoff, the pilot Andrew Riciutti, contacted air traffic controllers at Miami International Airport, who then transferred the flight info to Tampa.

At 2:16 a.m. a Jacksonville-based air traffic controller explained "there was no weather information available for Gainesville." He then directed the pilot to descend 3,000 feet and land at on runway number 29 at Gainesville Regional Airport.

But there was a problem: It was so foggy, you couldn't see more than a few feet ahead. Nevertheless, at 2:43 a.m. the controller "made the decision to terminate air traffic control services." Two minutes later the couple was killed.

The FAA doesn't comment on pending litigation.

The daughters, Leesfield says, are "devastated."

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Natalie O'Neill
Contact: Natalie O'Neill