Crash plane site

A Cirrus SR22 airplane rests in a tree in a wood line off Monocacy Boulevard after a midair crash with a helicopter in 2014.

A jury awarded the families of helicopter pilots killed in 2014 in a midair collision in Frederick a total of $17 million on Tuesday.

The families of Christopher Parsons, 29, of Westminster, and William Jenkins, 47, of Morrison, Colorado, sued Midwest Air Traffic Control Services, the contractor that runs the tower at Frederick Municipal Airport, claiming the company’s negligence was responsible for the fatal crash between a helicopter and Cirrus plane on Oct. 23, 2014.

Breandan MacFawn, 35, of Cumberland, a passenger on the helicopter, also died in the crash, but his family is not part of the suit.

The jury awarded the Jenkins family $12 million and the Parsons family $5 million.

Economists working on behalf of the families estimated that Parsons would have contributed around $3.3 million to the family if he worked until age 70. They calculated the financial loss of Jenkins, president of his family business, Allegany Coal and Land, at around $4.5 million. In a second estimate that included the value of dividends from the company, the loss was as great as $12.2 million.

Midwest argued against the suit, saying that it was the pilots’ lack of awareness that caused the fatal crash.

For Parsons’ widow, however, the verdict was a form of vindication. “The biggest thing I wanted was for my husband’s name to be cleared,” Ashlee Parsons said. “He was an amazing pilot.”

The families and their representatives hoped the verdict would encourage safety at the airport.

Nancy Parsons, Christopher Parsons’ mother, said she was happy about the verdict “so this tragedy doesn’t happen again.”

Attorneys for the families said that there should be a standard operating procedure put in place at the airport to help prevent crashes.

Jenkins' widow did not comment on the verdict outside of the courtroom, but said she may make a statement later.

Attorneys for Midwest could not immediately be reached for comment.

Follow Kelsi Loos on Twitter: @KelsiLoos.

(28) comments

DickD

This case will be appealed for a couple of reasons. First, the size of the judgement will want them to go forward and at minimum reduce the monetary cost. And no jury can rule on law, the question will be whether the pilots shared responsibilty, most likely they did.

Meteor

Very unfortunate, likely if tower was properly equipped with radar (as are most towers comparable to Frederick), and more than one controller was working the multiple frequencies, this would not have occurred.

DickD

If they are using Visual Flight Rules (VFR), which they were, radar would add nothing.

Fishstyx

I'm a general aviation pilot. We're trained that air traffic control towers like this provide only "sequencing" services, not "separation". That means during clear weather it's still up to individual pilots to "see and avoid". Towers usually do a pretty good job of calling out conflicts, but that doesn't always happen. The bottom line is that as a pilot who likes staying alive, the only time I totally rely on ATC to keep me from hitting another plane is when I'm in the clouds and have no choice. It's a tragedy, but anytime two planes hit each other in good weather the pilots are significantly responsible.

AstuteBusinessWoman

First and foremost, yes. However, what if the ATC had spotted the conflict and made the call out? I don't have to be a pilot to ask that, know the answer, and understand the decision in this case. There is no 1 person responsible in this, as with many accidents, it is a result of a few misses...
Very unfortunate story. May the families find peace.
May pilots and ATC personnel be reminded how important it is to stay alert and respond/act/call-out. Your best resource is always your own vigilence.

AstuteBusinessWoman

Actually, may all involved find peace and move forward.

joelp77440

The biggest thing I wanted was for my husband’s name to be cleared,” Ashlee Parsons said Actually it is still his fault. ATC was held liable for NOT spotting her husband's error. ATC should have caught his lack of attention by paying attention themselves. This in no way changes the FFA finding which is summary, says everyone was to blame on some level.

girlie247

how was it the pilots fault?

joelp77440

The ATC is a tool only, just as the air speed indicator or GPS. Read the FAA report for more details of the incident.

fmjc

Not a fair summary of the facts.

joelp77440

Really?? This is the summary of the NTSB report. I think I'm on point "The National Transportation Safety Board released a probable cause report on May 23. It states that, based on a transmission sent from the air traffic control tower advising of traffic on the single-engine Cirrus SR22 airplane’s approach to the landing zone, each pilot “was or should have been aware of the other,” and “should have had the situational awareness to understand the conflict potential,” according to the single-page report.

lawbuff2244

NTSB reports are not admissible in court since they are not fact. They are compiled based on fact but are ultimately and opinion of the investigator. Looking further into the facts and the details of the case the 12 jurors found that it was the air traffic controller that was negligent and not the pilots. This is the problem making a statement based off a one page opinion document. The jury who sat through a 3 week trial made a much more informed decision, and ultimately delivered the correct ruling.

KellyAlzan

Isn't the whole purpose of utilizing air traffic controllers to prevent such tragic mishaps?

Fishstyx

Only partially. In good weather it's still up to pilots to see and avoid. Small towers at airports like Frederick are providing sequencing services to manage the flow of landing and departing aircraft, but most of their work is done visually, actually looking out the window of the tower. People are confusing what a tower like this does vs. enroute air traffic control which does provide a guarantee of separation between aircraft.

tonyc51

Just curious, how much did the attorneys get of the settlement?

KellyAlzan

50% is my guess

DickD

When you go to court the normal percentage is 1/3, out of court, 1/4.

Dwasserba

"Attorneys for the families said that there should be a standard operating procedure put in place at the airport to help prevent crashes." ?? "Should"?

joelp77440

There actual is, it wasn't followed by both the air traffic controllers AND the pilots.

stefcfi

Millions cannot bring back a life. Nor can it make lack of attention on anyone's part (ATC or pilots) an excuse.
I feel sorry for all involved. Midwest, the controller herself, the victims, and the families.
I had previously posted that the families may not find peace or justice in just money, but the courts proved otherwise in this tragedy.

CDReid

I wonder why the big difference in the settlements between the two families?

fmjc

Primarily a function of how much each gentleman was making and his future projected earnings.

CDReid

Gotcha, thanks. [thumbup]

fulldisclosure

Awards are based on a variety of objective factors (such as lost earnings, were they the main bread winner), as well as subjective factors (pain and suffering, loss of companionship) for each death. One victim might have had less earning potential, no small children, etc. while the other one did, and therefore awarded a smaller judgment.

stefcfi

While I respect your point, I can attest that a flight instructor of any kind will not make 12 million in a lifetime. And even if that person goes on to fly for an airline or prestigious firm, the 12 million is far down the road.
I do not, however, dispute the pain and suffering part. For all involved.

fmjc

He was a business executive, not a flight instructor.

MLaw22

The one that was awarded 12 million was not a flight instructor.

dzimm

So glad to hear that this trial is over. This decision will never bring those young men back, but maybe this will help the families heal and move on. Thank you jury!

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