Crash photo - Horizontal (copy)

Firefighters spray the parachute of a small plane that crashed after striking a helicopter on Oct. 23, 2014, near Frederick Municipal Airport. All three occupants of the helicopter died. The pilot and lone passenger in the plane survived with minor injuries.

In court on Tuesday, a witness to a 2014 fatal midair crash in Frederick described looking at the face of the helicopter pilot as his aircraft went down.

“It was a terrified face,” said Henry Polo, who was working nearby.

Polo was at his business, Solid Waste Industries on Orchard Avenue in Frederick, on Oct. 23, 2014, when a Cirrus plane and a helicopter crashed near Frederick Municipal Airport. Three people were killed.

The families of Christopher Parsons and William Jenkins, two of the three men who died in the crash, are suing Midwest Air Traffic Control Services, the contractor that staffs the airport control tower, in a wrongful-death lawsuit.

The families say the company’s negligence was responsible for the crash. Midwest Air Traffic Control Services argues that the pilots did not properly keep track of each other’s positions.

Breandan MacFawn, of Cumberland, also died in the crash.

Polo saw a lot of dust and debris after impact. He went to the crash site thinking he might be able to help.

“It didn’t seem so high, so there might be some survivors I could attend to,” he said.

He noticed plenty of fuel, but no flames. He also saw a wedding band on the helicopter passenger’s hand.

“It was just silent,” he said, adding later, “They were just lifeless there.”

Parsons, of Westminster, worked as a flight instructor with Advanced Helicopter Concepts operating at Frederick Municipal Airport. He was a passenger instructing Jenkins, of Colorado, when they were killed in the helicopter. MacFawn was another passenger.

The occupants of the plane survived the crash.

Donald Sommer, an aircraft collision reconstruction expert from Aeroscope, explained to the jury how he used data recorded by the plane’s instruments, physics and math to re-create the trajectory of the aircraft. He used records from the control tower, witness statements and legal documents to piece together what happened at the time of the crash.

Sommer was hired by one of the attorneys for the families, Bruce Lampert, to explain what caused the midair crash.

He created a simulation of what each pilot would have seen before impact. He said the people in the helicopter wouldn’t have been able to see the plane, which struck from the rear above.

Data from the plane’s instruments and interviews with the pilot confirm that the Cirrus pilot saw the helicopter and tried to ascend to avoid striking it, Sommer said.

Attorneys for Midwest argue that it was the pilots’ responsibility, not the control tower’s, to visually scan for other aircraft. They will have the opportunity to cross-examine Sommer on Wednesday.

The trial is scheduled to continue through April 7.

Follow Kelsi Loos on Twitter: @KelsiLoos.

(1) comment


Having worked for the FAA, as a contractor, it would seem to me that it is the responsibility of the Air Traffic Controller to ensure air separation between aircraft, How they would do that with helicopters, I do not know, but Frederick is a small airport and probably the air traffic controllers do not have a lot of experience. One time, I spent a day at Leesburg, which controls much of the air traffic around DC. But that is not the same job as the one at airports. The attorneys need to get some air traffic controllers from other airports to define responsibility.
"The primary purpose of ATC worldwide is to prevent collisions, organize and expedite the flow of air traffic, and provide information and other support for pilots."

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