The families of four people who died in a plane crash more than three years ago were awarded a $9.5 million settlement from the Federal Aviation Administration Wednesday.
On Dec. 12, 2001, a Piper Cherokee attempting to land in heavy fog at Jacksonville International Airport crashed, killing all four people on board.
Attorney Donald Weidner -- the pilot -- and his partner, Thomas Bowden, were returning from a business trip in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with their clients, Adrienne and James Abrisch, when the single-engine plane they were flying in was diverted from Craig Field to JIA because of weather conditions.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan ruled that the air traffic controllers were partially at fault for not properly and continuously updating the pilot on hazardous weather conditions. Bowden's father, George, was present for Corrigan's ruling.
"We are happy this long nightmare is over for us," he said. "I cannot say this is a happy event for us today. However, if we could be, we would rather have our son back than all of the money in the United States Treasury."
Steve Pajcic, an attorney in the case, said it was difficult to prove the FAA was at fault because the controllers were operating from a temporary tower while the main tower was being renovated. It is this reason that none of the conversations between Weidner and air traffic control were ever recorded.
"Since no one survived the crash and only the controllers were around to testify, it was an extremely interesting and difficult puzzle," Pajcic said.
The ultimate key to cracking the case was an altimeter photographed by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office shortly after the crash. According to Pajcic, Weidner calibrated his altimeter based on weather conditions, and that the last weather report he received from the tower was nearly two hours old.
Pajcic hoped that the ruling would set a precedent in similar cases across the nation.
"Air traffic controllers in performing their jobs cannot be allowed to gamble with the safety of the flying public," he said.
- November 16, 2004: Judge Finds FAA Largely To Blame For 2001 Plane Crash
- December 14, 2001: Crash Investigators: At Least 6 Months To Know Cause
- December 13, 2001: Investigators Searching For Clues In Fatal Plane Crash