Las Vegas Midair Elicits Lawsuit From Instructor Pilot’s Family

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According to reporting in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the family of a flight instructor killed in a midair collision is suing the estate of the other pilot involved in the accident, who also died. As previously reported, Donald Goldberg, 82, was flying a Piper PA-46 Malibu Mirage on a flight from Idaho to North Las Vegas Airport. On final approach, his airplane overtook a Cessna 172 Skyhawk on an instructional flight with 40-year-old Anthony Chiaramonti in the right seat. Both pilots were killed along with Goldberg’s wife, Carol Scanlon, 76, and Chiaramonti’s student Zach Rainey.

Goldberg had been cleared for a visual approach to Runway 30L, but on his turn from base to final overshot the runway extended centerline and overtook Chiaramonti’s Cessna on the approach path to parallel Runway 30R. Goldberg had acknowledged his clearance to land on Runway 30L.

In an email to the paper, the attorney representing Chiaramonti’s family wrote, “One of the fundamental responsibilities of a pilot is to see and avoid other planes. Mr. Goldberg utterly failed to do so when he lined up his plane to land on the wrong runway and flew into the rear of Tony Chiaramonti’s plane, who was landing on the correct runway.”

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that attorneys for Goldberg’s family had not responded to requests for comment.

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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20 COMMENTS

  1. Landing 2 aircraft at the same time on parallel runways is not the smartest thing to do. Perhaps the control tower could have alternated them? Spaced them out better? Was the sun in their eyes? Many things to consider here.

  2. The wreckage of that PA46 just doesn’t look like it was damaged enough to cause fatalities, but obviously it did. The pilot was 82 and a fairly high performance plane. Realizing we are all going to age differently, I’m 81 now and hung it up 3 years ago. Had been flying since high school and still had a plane. But hadn’t yet killed anyone or even wrecked a plane, figured I’d better quit while I was ahead. Or as someone told me, while my number of landings still equaled my number of takeoffs.

    • Tough personal decision. I’m 62 and starting to thinking when about when is the right time to stop.

      Not everyone ages the same. Maybe more frequent proficiency tests could address this issue.

      • ” Maybe more frequent proficiency tests could address this issue. ” I’m 60 and I still work a 12 hour shift in the ICU with critically ill patients. When I can no longer do this work comfortably I might sell the plane or maybe just add a copilot. Age is just a number.

  3. Another issue is pilot age… and that hits home. I am approaching 70 and at what point do I hang it up? Perhaps age wasn’t a factor here, but 82 and a PA-46 does beg the question.

    It is better to quit sooner than one flight too late. A very sobering and troubling thought.

    My condolences to everyone involved.

  4. This is (along with the Centennial accident) a case of airport design contributing to the accident.

    There are two common reasons for an aircraft to blunder into the final approach course of a parallel runway. The first is a simple overshoot. The second is accidentally lining up on wrong runway. The Centennial accident appears to be the first, and this one may be the second.

    There are best practices for preventing overshoots (beyond simply looking out the window, which clearly failed in both of these accidents).

    Runway spacing is a big one. In both cases, the runway spacing was only about 700-ft (centerline to centerline). With runways this close, ATC should be staggering the arrivals and ensuring that the trailing aircraft has the leading aircraft in sight.

    Electronic guidance is another big one, and there are two ways to do this; use the final approach course from an instrument approach or OBS around the airport. In this case, it was not practical to use an instrument approach as there are no instrument approaches to either 30L or 30R.

    The OBS method requires a decent GPS and involves telling the GPS to go direct to the airport (really the Airport Reference Point or ARP), going into OBS mode (“suspend” for you Garmin fans), and dialing in the runway heading on the Course Deflection Indicator. This will present you with both a line on a map to follow and fly left/right indications on the CDI. In theory, the OBS method was on the only one available… but it really wasn’t.

    It all comes down to the location of the Airport Reference Point, which can be described as the “average position of all runways”. Both Centennial and North Las Vegas have crossing runways. In the case of this airport, the existence of the crossing runway moves the Airport Reference Point to a position on runway 30R. At the point of impact, if the Malibu was using the OBS method the CDI would have been approximately centered. (I do not know if the pilot was using the OBS method, and we may never be able to recover that data from the avionics.)

    Accident prevention requires looking at the whole accident chain. Obviously the Malibu pilot was responsible for lining up with the correct runway. But, there were a number of other opportunities to break the accident chain:
    1. ATC should have been staggering the arrivals on the parallel runways.
    2. ATC was aware of the overshoot and probably should have sent the Malibu around.
    3. At airports with parallel runways, the Airport Reference Point should always be placed between the parallel runways (or, at least, the extended centerline of the parallel runways).

    It’s time for the FAA to start doing their job.

    • There was lots of discussion at the time on many of your points. Supporting the overshoot theory: the Malibu pilot acknowledged the clearance to land on 30L, but entered the pattern with excess speed. Supporting the wrong runway theory; confirmation bias could have caused him to “hear” 30R, because it’s a longer runway and he may have been more accustomed to using it.

    • Even better than the OBS method, the Garmin 650/750 (and derivatives) have visual approaches that you can load for each runway and will give a course aligned with the actual runway’s centerline (rather than from the airport reference point).

  5. “According to reporting in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the family of a flight instructor killed in a midair collision is suing the estate of the other pilot involved in the accident, who also died.”…
    The family suing the estate?…

  6. WTF, over?

    I’ve been flying for over 50 years and instrument rated for over 49 years and I’ve never heard of “the OBS method” or for that matter the “Airport Referenc Point”. A google search revealed that the ARP is the approximate geographical location of the airport.

    What is wrong with looking out the window and verifying the correct runway? What’s the point of all this instrument gobldygook in VMC at a tower controlled airport? If one has to use instruments, there is a published ILS 12L approach and the back course (30R, unpublished) is where the Malibu should not have been. But the simple truth is that the PIC is responsible to land on the correct runway and that requires looking outside, not at the TV screens inside.

    I do not fly IFR any more but whenever I fly to an unfamiliar airport, I always take a look at the airport diagram before arrival. Something that simple, and LOOKING OUTSIDE, is all that is required.

    • I wish this were the case, but there is example after example of pilots landing on the wrong runway, taxiways, hell, even the wrong airport. When I was stationed at Ellsworth AFB, SD a pair of pilots flying a T-38 landed at Rapid City Regional instead of Ellsworth. The two runways are roughly aligned, but only about 6 nm apart.

      Dialing in a localizer or programming an RNAV approach for the cleared runway even when flying a visual approach is pretty common. Unfortunately, there are no instrument procedures for either 30L or 30R at that airport.

      My technique for runway’s without instrument procedures is to use ForeFlight’s Procedure Advisor. The pilot may select from a number of different traffic pattern options including straight in. If you select straight in you get an extended runway centerline on your moving map display which can help you ensure you’re lined up on the right runway.

      • Damn, ONLY 6 nautical miles. Yeah, you’re right, with airports that close who knows what to expect? God forbid multiple, especially parallel runways. It’s really hard to see outside in a T38, TVs rule in VMC.

    • There is nothing wrong with looking out the window (it’s my preferred method). I also haven’t seen anything to suggest that the Malibu pilot wasn’t looking out the window. It’s very likely that the Malibu pilot simply misinterpreted what he was seeing.

      There are limits to the capabilities of a pilot to process visual information. Misinterpretations can occur, and confirmation bias makes them very hard to catch. This happens a lot, even in less challenging environments. For example:

      – Airline pilots love to line up on taxiway M at Boston’s Logan Airport (KBOS). (So much so, they had to write “TAXI” on it.)
      – A C-17 pilot landed on runway 22 at Peter O. Knight (KTPF) after getting it confused with runway 23 at MacDill Air Force Base (KMCF).
      – An Air Canada flight almost landed on taxiway C at San Francisco (KSFO) with four other airplanes on the taxiway. They were cleared to land on 28R and expected to see two parallel runways. With the lights turned off on 28L (the runway was closed), the crew misinterpreted 28R as 28L and thought the taxiway was 28R.

      These are just the first three that jump to mind and most of these types of events never even make the news.

      Just looking outside isn’t enough because it doesn’t work 100% of the time. Moving an ARP or changing ATC procedures isn’t that hard, but it helps prevent common accidents/incidents.

  7. Exactly right. There are no published approaches to the 30 pair at the airport. My comment was about using instruments to line up with a runway when there was no approach available. An unpublished back course to 30R would have told the pilot where NOT to be. I did not suggest that’s what he should have done. I clearly stated that he should have been looking outside, rather than inside. Trying to set up a parallel course to the vague centroid of the runways and then flying to the right side of that line is idiotic.

    I’m old school. I learned to fly with steam gauges, never had an autopilot until the past couple of years, and have flown many approaches to 100 and a quarter on basic instruments, no flight director. As systems get more capable, pilots become less so.

    He should have been looking outside.

  8. While tragic, mid-air collisions on parallel runways happen so seldom that the problem does not require a drastic procedural solution. Both this and the Centennial mid-air were caused by pilots overshooting their runway centerlines and failing to avoid airplanes lined up for the correct runway. In both cases, pilots were seemingly not in complete control of their airplanes, nor looking out the window for traffic. This isn’t a procedural problem, it’s a training and proficiency problem. Eliminating parallel runway operations, for a problem that rarely occurs, is a drastic solution.
    Centennial tower now delays the base leg turn on touch-and-go aircraft to avoid turning in alongside parallel runway traffic. This has drastically reduced runway availability and significantly increased noise complaints due to extended traffic patterns, all because of one mid-air collision since the parallel runway was built. We’ll never completely eliminate mid-air collision risk until we allow only one airplane in the air at a time. Until then, the best solution is Pilot education and training.

  9. The Jetprop [because this was a converted PA-46] came into the pattern fast and flew a considerably tighter pattern than it had done on numerous previous arrivals.

    His wife [also a certificated pilot] acknowledged not once, but twice, that they were cleared to land on 30L. His speed was such that it would have taken some pretty serious bank and pull to line up for 30L….but he was able to nicely line up for 30R, unfortunately, so was somebody else.

    IIRC their groundspeed on entering the downwind was somewhere around 160 knots….and yeah you can slow down pretty quickly in a PA46 but still never a good idea to come blazing into a pattern like that, particularly one at at airport with lots of flight training and hence slower airplanes.

    Doubt this will be relevant to the NTSB but it may for the lawsuit, the husband was flying on Basic Med, and hence is limited to under FL 180. The accident aircraft departed Coeur d’Alene and cruised to VGT in the mid-20’s, so if he was acting as PIC he was violating an FAR. However, his wife had a valid Third Class Medical and lots of time in the PA46 so perhaps she was PIC? Something more for the attorneys to quibble over.

    Lastly, it is sadly ironic that the Jetprop was returning to home base after having spent Saturday at a PA-46 Safety Seminar in Coeur d’Alene. My wife and I were at the same meeting and had dinner with the accident pilots on Saturday night, seemed like a happy and energetic couple.

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