Pilot Negligent, But Cirrus Party To $14 Million Penalty

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A Minnesota jury has found that though the pilot was 25 percent negligent in the January 2003 fatal crash of an SR-22 that killed him and a passenger near Hill City, Minn., Cirrus and the University of North Dakota were 75 percent negligent. The result of the case hinges on the jury's belief that that the pilot had purchased and was promised training that he did not receive and that his lack of that training was a direct factor in the crash. The NTSB's factual report states that an individual requested an abbreviated briefing for the flight noting that conditions at the departure airport were 2,800 feet overcast and that he was "hoping to slide underneath it then climb out." One witness who observed the aircraft flying approximately 100 feet above trees noted the engine sound was smooth, the aircraft seemed to be following a road (a notion echoed by at least one other witness) and added "that thing was moving." The witness stated that weather at that location was clear and moon lit. Another witness who saw the post-impact "fireball" stated that weather at his location was clear with a full moon. Cirrus and North Dakota's Aerospace Foundation were sued by the families of the two crash victims claiming they were negligent and had failed to train the pilot to fly the aircraft in bad weather.

The 47-year-old pilot, Gary Prokop, held a private pilot certificate with an airplane single-engine land rating and a third-class medical, according to the NTSB. Prokop had logged 57 hours of instrument time with 248 hours total and almost 19 in the SR-22. Cirrus Design and the University of North Dakota had provided four flights accounting for 12.5 hour flight hours, plus 5.3 hours of ground instruction. Prokop was given a VFR-only completion certificate and high-performance endorsement limited to the SR-22 upon his completion of the course, Dec. 12, roughly one month prior to his fatal crash. Jurors awarded $9 million to Prokop's family. Cirrus is considering an appeal.