Court Orders U.S. To Pay Pilot's Family

  • E-Mail this Article
  • View Printable Article
  • Text size:

    • A
    • A
    • A

A District Court Judge has ordered the United States to pay $4.4 million to the family of a pilot killed in a 2005 plane crash after finding that a controller (currently serving as a front line manager) "breached his duty of care." Judge Edwin G. Torres found that controller Harvey Pake failed to provide accurate, complete weather information pertinent to pilot Michael Zinn's route of flight. He also failed to provide navigational assistance when asked, according to the court. The NTSB's full narrative suggests it may not be that simple. Zinn was flying a Cessna P337H, IFR, out of Boca Raton for Myrtle Beach in the afternoon. Pake told him he was heading toward heavy precipitation and Zinn announced a heading change. Pake became involved with another aircraft as Zinn flew into a Level 5 storm. Zinn was heard on frequency by controllers and other pilots screaming for help for two minutes before his radio went silent.

The court found that the controller's station displayed Level 5 to 6 weather along Zinn's new heading. It resolved that Pake "failed to provide sufficient accurate weather information to allow Zinn to make informed decisions." In real time, when asked by Zinn, "Does my heading look clear to you at this point?" Pake replied "I cannot suggest any headings because my weather radar only picks up precipitation and is not as accurate as what you see out your window." The NTSB found Pake had cleared Zinn to deviate left and right along his new route of flight and asked Zinn to advise when he was back on course. In the interim, Pake became involved with another aircraft. When Pake returned, Zinn was in trouble, announcing he was "in difficult shape." Zinn then requested that Pake give him a heading. Pake replied that he could only suggest a heading, which he did. Twenty seconds later a voice presumed to be that of Zinn was heard on frequency saying, "Help." Other pilots relayed "Somebody's yelling for help and that they're going to die." Soon after, Zinn's aircraft crashed into a house. The judge found that Zinn was 60 percent responsible for his own death, with significant contributions made by the Miami Air Route Traffic Control Center. But according to the judge, "Neither the air traffic controllers nor Michael Zinn were bad actors in this tragic accident."