Attorneys for two families suing an air traffic control company after a fatal midair crash elicited tears while describing the men killed in that crash.
Christopher Parsons, of Westminster, worked as a flight instructor with Advanced Helicopter Concepts. He and his passengers, Breandan MacFawn, of Cumberland, and William Jenkins, of Colorado, were killed Oct. 23, 2014, when a Cirrus plane piloted by Scott Vincent Graeves struck the helicopter near Frederick Municipal Airport.
Graeves and his passenger survived the crash.
Three helicopters were in flight nearby as Graeves came in to land from Tennessee. The tower cleared him to land after he said that he could see two of them.
The plane struck the helicopter’s rear from above. Attorneys for the families of people in the helicopter argue that the air traffic controller was responsible because she lost sight of the helicopter and didn’t hear Graeves radio that he was approaching because she was occupied clearing a jet on the runway to take off.
Attorneys for Midwest Air Traffic Control Service, the contractor that staffs the airport tower, argue that Parsons and Jenkins caused the crash because they failed to follow pilots’ guidelines to “see and avoid” other aircraft.
Attorneys for the Parsons and Jenkins families presented opening arguments Monday that outlined their case and introduced the jury to the men who died.
Robert Michael, an attorney for the Parsons family, said Parsons was a 29-year-old Marine who served two tours in Iraq. He took risks by going out into the field to work on helicopters unable to return to base, Michael said.
Parsons earned his pilot’s license in 2001, Michael said, and became an instructor in 2011.
Bruce Lampert, an aviation attorney representing the Jenkins family, shared a photo of a branch Jenkins made a token of affection for his wife. Jenkins found the wood while they were hiking and he used a magnifying glass to burn their names into it separated by a heart.
Lampert quoted a statement from Jenkins’ wife, Noelle Alice Jenkins: “I will never stop loving my husband.”
Lampert choked up describing hypothetical questions William Jenkins’ sons would never be able to ask him about dating and going off to college.
Bill Conroy, an attorney for Midwest Air Traffic Control, acknowledged that the crash was tragic.
“Anyone who has heard about this accident understands the gravity of the loss,” he said.
He tasked the jury with determining who was responsible for the deaths.
“When you hear one side of the story, you might attach to it right away,” he said. “You need to hear both sides of the story.”
Conroy said the helicopter was flying at around 1,000 feet, even though the helicopter flight school had rules stating that they should stay at 500 feet or below. Helicopters were to ask the tower for permission before going higher than 900 feet, he said.
The families’ attorneys, however, said the airport had no rules against flying that high. The only airport guideline on the subject was to fly above 1,000 feet to cut down on air traffic noise.
Conroy said the helicopter pilot and passengers should have anticipated that the plane was above them if they had been listening to control tower communication.
He encouraged the jury to consider three key questions: Was the helicopter authorized to fly at around 1,000 feet? Did the people in the helicopter properly keep an eye out for other aircraft? Why didn’t the control tower warn the pilots?
It wasn’t uncommon for helicopters to leave the tower’s field of view, Conroy said. The controller was looking for the plan coming in to land at the time, he continued.
The jury will consider the cases as the trial continues through April 7.