NTSB: Plane Was Out of Fuel Before Fatal Crash

Federal investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) have published their report on a Michigan plane crash that led to the death of a woman in June 2016.

The Detroit News reports that Theresa Surles, 38, was outside her east-side Detroit apartment at around 9 p.m. on the evening of June 27 and preparing to attend a local fireworks show when a plane crashed through a power line near her. The plane engine began to run roughly, so the pilot opted to enrich the fuel mixture and turn on auxiliary fuel pumps. The engine lost power, and the pilot executed a forced landing on the residential street where Theresa Surles was retrieving some items from her parked car. She was struck by a live wire brought down by the plane crash, electrocuted, and died from her injuries on July 6.

The pilot of the downed Cessna Model 150L single-engine plane, an unnamed 18-year-old male, suffered only minor injuries and was able to walk away from the wrecked plane. He had been using the plane, registered to Drake Aerial Enterprises and operated by Air America Aerial Ads, to tow an advertising banner over the fireworks festival.

According to the aviation accident report recently released by the NTSB, investigators with the Federal Aviation Administration determined that the left fuel tank of the plane was entirely empty and that there was only residual fuel in the right-side tank. The pilot had been in the air for roughly three hours and nine minutes, although Drake Aerial company policy limits the length of banner-tow flights to a maximum of two hours and 45 minutes. Federal investigators have learned that “The accident pilot had received a verbal briefing, within a month of the accident, that covered the company’s policy regarding the maximum allowable flight duration.”

In a federal plane crash lawsuit filed in September, the family of Theresa Surles has named the pilot (“John Doe”) and Drake Aerial as defendants responsible for the negligence that led to her entirely avoidable death. According to this complaint, “Defendant John Doe was negligent in his operation of the Defendant’s plane and further failed to manage the fuel system properly during a banner tow operation resulting in a loss of engine power due to fuel starvation.”

Drake Aerial has not made a formal response to the allegations made in this plane crash lawsuit, but the NTSB report says that the company has agreed to install placards in all cockpits noting the limitation of banner-tow flight times to a maximum of two hours and 45 minutes.

If the young pilot of this plane had properly managed his fuel resources and adhered to company policies regarding flight times, and if the company had contacted this pilot to tell him he had been in the air for longer than was safe, Theresa Surles would not have died that night. If you believe that negligence played a role in a plane crash that led to your suffering or the loss of a loved one, you have the right to hold all accountable parties to justice and pursue compensation for your damages. For more information, contact our aviation accident attorneys for a free and confidential legal consultation.

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