Six Companies Named In Lawsuit Following Wing Separation

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The June 2002 crash of a modified Piper Malibu that lost a portion of wing and crashed outside Orlando, Fla., killing all three aboard has resulted in a wrongful-death lawsuit naming six separate companies. The suit claims that not only were the aircraft design and manufacturer deficient, but so was the autopilot, the turbine (conversion), and work performed on the aircraft prior to the fatal flight. As a result, New Piper Aircraft Inc., Rocket Engineering Corp., Honeywell International Inc., Pratt & Whitney Canada, Jetprop LLC., and Naples Air Center Inc. have all been named. A CFI who last gave the pilot training told the NTSB, the pilot "pushed himself dangerously close when making weather decisions...". The NTSB's report states the aircraft was cruising at 26,000 feet and averaging 230 knots -- convective SIGMETS for nearby areas listed tops above FL450. "He was flying very fast in extreme weather," Naples Air Center's chief executive officer told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. The NTSB report says the aircraft was equipped with a PT6A-34 turbo-prop and the aircraft had posted 38.2 hours since its March annual before losing a wing panel on its final flight. The NTSB determined that the aircraft was flying toward, "heavy thunderstorm when the pilot requested to deviate...". Minutes later, "the pilot reported seeing a hole and attempted to fly through it." Ballistic trajectory estimates suggest the radar pod and wing panel separated at roughly 26,000 feet. The report states that a CFI who had flown with the pilot, "had cautioned him as late as '2 weeks' prior to the accident that his decision making in this respect [flying near thunderstorms] was deficient and he needed to exercise 'greater care' when flying his JetProp in and around 'adverse weather systems.'"