Suit Filed In Mountain Crash

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Family members of passengers killed in the 2016 crash of a Cessna 182 in Tennessee are claiming controllers should have warned the non-instrument-rated pilot he was about to hit a mountain in IMC. Pilot David Starling, his eight-year-old son Hunter and the pilot’s girlfriend Kim Smith died when the Skylane hit the cloud-shrouded 6,500-foot mountain at the 5,400-foot level. WKOV reported the suits, filed by the mother of the child and Smith’s son, claimed the “approach controller never warned the pilot that he was at an obvious risk of colliding with the mountain.”

The NTSB report said the pilot was cleared to begin his descent from 9,500 feet to his destination airport but was instructed to maintain VFR. Instead, he descended through a cloud layer at 7,000 feet and was still in cloud when the plane hit the mountain. The report cited the pilot’s “anti-authority attitude,” noting his medical certificate had expired and the plane was overdue for an inspection. The NTSB interviewed a flight instructor who said the pilot frequently flew in IMC even though he wasn’t rated. In its response to the suit, the government said the crash was the result of “the negligent acts and omissions of the pilot.”

Comments (7)

Sounds like the lawsuit should be directed towards the estate of the pilot not the government. A real shame that 2 innocent passengers died due to the irresponsible actions of the PIC. All accidents like this do is make life much more difficult for those who act responsibly when aviating.

Posted by: matthew wagner | January 19, 2019 1:44 PM    Report this comment

These lawsuits never win. It's ridiculous that it's even allowed to be filed.

Posted by: Salvatore Marinello | January 19, 2019 5:19 PM    Report this comment

A perfect example of normalization of risk. It seems everyone knew this pilot ignored the rules. Someone should have told his girlfriend.

Posted by: Mark Sletten | January 20, 2019 7:04 AM    Report this comment

NTSB Identification: ERA17FA073
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Monday, December 26, 2016 in Gatlinburg, TN
Probable Cause Approval Date: 04/17/2018
Aircraft: CESSNA 182, registration: N1839X
Injuries: 3 Fatal.


The non-instrument-rated private pilot elected to conduct the cross-country flight over mountainous terrain without obtaining a weather briefing or filing a flight plan. As he approached his destination, the pilot requested a descent from his cruising altitude of 9,500 ft mean sea level (msl), which was approved by air traffic control. The controller instructed the pilot to maintain visual flight rules flight throughout his descent. Instead, the pilot descended the airplane into a cloud layer between 7,000 ft msl to 5,000 ft msl despite his instructions from air traffic control. Radar data and satellite weather imagery depicted the airplane in a steady-state descent inside a solid cloud layer which tracked north, directly toward the destination airport. The radar track ended at 5,400 ft. msl abeam a mountain peak at 6,500 feet elevation. The accident site was located at 5,400 ft in steep, mountainous terrain about 15 miles south of the destination airport at the same position as the last radar target.

Examination of the wreckage revealed no pre-impact mechanical anomalies and signatures consistent with controlled flight into terrain.

The pilot had a history of disregard for established rules and regulations. The pilot's medical certificate was expired, and his airplane was about 2 months overdue for an annual inspection. He was counseled numerous times by an experienced flight instructor about his unsafe practice of operating the airplane in instrument meteorological conditions without an instrument rating, but he continued to do so over a period of 2 years and again on the accident flight. His contempt for rules and regulations was consistent with an anti-authority attitude, which is hazardous to safe operation of aircraft.
The pilot had used the potentially-impairing stimulant phentermine at some time before the flight, but the samples available for testing were inadequate to quantify impairment. Therefore, it could not be determined if the pilot's use of phentermine contributed to this accident.


The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:

The non-instrument-rated pilot's intentional visual flight rules flight into instrument meteorological conditions, which resulted in controlled flight into terrain. Contributing to the accident was the pilot's established anti-authority attitude.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | January 20, 2019 11:08 AM    Report this comment

The pilot requested the descent.
ATC granted the descent as long as he remained VFR.
You don't hit a mountain if you remain VFR so why would a controller have warned any further?

Posted by: Mark Fraser | January 22, 2019 2:07 PM    Report this comment

ATC instructed the pilot to maintain VFR flight throughout the pilots descent. He put himself and innocent people and children into harms way. His instructor mentions that he frequently flew into IMC conditions without proper training. I don't believe it is anyone's fault but the pilots. Poor descision making and flight planning lead to catostrophic events. ATC has no fault in this crash

Posted by: Davis Souza | January 28, 2019 8:23 PM    Report this comment

ATC should not be held responsible for this pilots poor decision making. He was cleared for VFR descent to his landing. He deliberately flew into IMC without training and with people and children onboard risking their lives. Could have been avoided and in now way is ATC responsible.

Posted by: Davis Souza | January 28, 2019 8:27 PM    Report this comment

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