An air traffic control contractor is challenging the claim that pilots involved in a deadly midair crash over Frederick couldn’t have seen each other.
In the ongoing wrongful-death trial against Midwest Air Traffic Control Services, attorney William Conroy called flight experts to the stand on Wednesday. They had created a simulation that purported to show the plane was in the helicopter’s field of view with enough time to avoid the air disaster.
Robert Winn, of the engineering and scientific investigation firm Engineering System Inc., said he used data from the National Transportation Safety Board, the plane’s computer, radar data, radio communications and an inspection of the wreckage to reconstruct the crash.
Ultimately, Winn used a virtual reality system programmed to represent the events that led to the crash. A pilot, Gerry Ventrella, then used the simulator to determine whether an experienced helicopter pilot could have avoided the crash.
A plane was visible in the simulation shown in court Wednesday.
An attorney for the crash victims’ families questioned the methodology behind the simulation. Bruce Lampert asked if a pilot in the real world would need to be scanning his instruments and suggested there was no way to tell where the pilot was looking at any given time.
“I was depicting what was there to be seen,” Winn responded.
Christopher Parsons, 29, of Westminster, and William Jenkins, 47, of Morrison, Colorado, were killed on Oct. 23, 2014, when a Cirrus plane and their helicopter crashed. Parsons was an instructor. Jenkins, a licensed pilot, was training on the helicopter to rent it.
Families of the men are now involved in a wrongful-death suit against Midwest Air Traffic Control Services, the contractor staffing the control tower at the airport.
Breandan MacFawn, 35, of Cumberland, a passenger on the helicopter, also died in the crash, but his family is not part of the suit.
One key piece of the families’ case is that Parsons and Jenkins could not have seen the plane and that it was the duty of the air traffic controller to keep the aircraft a safe distance apart.
Aviation experts hired by the plaintiffs created flight simulations showing it was impossible for the men flying the helicopter to see the plane.
Robert Michael, another attorney for the families of the men who died, asked Ventrella if he did the simulation alone. When Jenkins was piloting the helicopter, Parsons was seated next to him, so Michael asked if that could have affected Jenkins’ field of vision.
Ventrella said he did the simulation alone, but having two people should have made the situation safer because more eyes would have been on the sky.
Ventrella, who was testifying for the first time as an expert witness, said that after he reviewed information related to the crash, he believed Jenkins and Parsons could have avoided the crash.
“I would not say they were scanning properly, or they would have seen the airplane,” he said.
He said that about two minutes before the crash, the air traffic controller mentioned over the radio that helicopters were in the traffic pattern of the airport and a plane was coming in from the west. The pilots should have used that information to stay vigilant and avoid other aircraft, he said.
The trial is expected to continue through the week.