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PETERS v. UNITED STATES FAA

October 26, 1984

Kathleen J. PETERS, Executrix of the Estate of Michael C. Peters, Deceased
v.
UNITED STATES of America Federal Aviation Administration



The opinion of the court was delivered by: KATZ

 KATZ, District Judge.

 1. This is an action brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b), 2671, et seq., to recover damages for the death of Michael C. Peters in an airplane crash near Locust Grove, Virginia at approximately 7:08 P.M. EST on November 25, 1979, while Mr. Peters was flying from the Washington, D.C. area to Lynchburg, Virginia.

 2. This action has been brought by Kathleen J. Peters, Mr. Peter's widow and the personal representative of his estate.

 3. At the time of his death, Mr. Peters, age 42, held a valid, single engine, private pilot license issued by the FAA. This license permitted him to operate single engine aircraft.

 4. Mr. Peters was an experienced pilot. He had approximately 600 hours of flight time. He had flown in the D.C. area and the Lynchburg, Virginia area before.

 5. On November 25, 1979, Mr. Peters was qualified to undertake a night cross-country flight in visual meteorological conditions in a single engine aircraft from College Park, Maryland to Lynchburg, Virginia.

 6. Mr. Peters was not IFR (instrument flight rules) qualified. He was, therefore, not allowed to fly in instrument meteorological conditions, which exist when there is a "ceiling" of less than 1000 feet and/or visibility of less than three miles. A ceiling exists at the altitude at which the sky is described as "overcast" or at which cloud cover is described as "broken." Conditions are broken when clouds cover three-fifths to nine-tenths of the sky. Conditions are scattered when clouds cover one-tenth to less than one-half of the sky. The sky is overcast when more than nine-tenths is covered with clouds.

 7. Mr. Peters was a VFR (visual flight rules) pilot. He was qualified to fly whenever the ceiling was 1000 feet or higher and visibility was three miles or more.

 8. Marginal VFR conditions exist when the ceiling is between 1000 and 3000 feet and/or visibility is between three and five miles.

 9. At the time of the accident, Mr. Peters was flying N7650D, a small single engine airplane known as a Piper "Tri-Pacer." Mr. Peters had purchased the plane in 1972.

 10. At the time of the accident, Mr. Peters was flying from College Park, Maryland to Lynchburg, Virginia in order to attend a business meeting in Lynchburg at 8:15 A.M. on November 26, 1979.

 11. Mr. Peters was not suffering from any mental or physical condition which contributed in any way to the accident.

 12. N7650D was airworthy on the date of the crash. There is no evidence that mechanical failure contributed in any way to the accident.

 13. The aircraft was equipped with navigation and communications equipment including a transponder. A transponder is equipment which enables air traffic control radar facilities to locate an aircraft. The aircraft did not have a DME, distance measuring equipment, optional equipment which permits the pilot to measure his distance from a navigational aid on the ground.

 14. A VOR is a ground-based electronic navigation aid which transmits very high frequency navigation signals for 360 degrees.

 15. A flight service station (FSS) is an FAA air traffic facility which provides services to airmen, including weather briefings to pilots.

 16. Before starting his trip on November 25, 1979, Mr. Peters called flight service stations twice, once in the morning and once in the early part of the afternoon. The purpose of both calls was to obtain weather information. There is no record of what information the decedent received during these two conversations.

 17. Mr. Peters flew from Doylestown, Pennsylvania to College Park, Maryland in the afternoon of November 25, 1979.

 18. At 6:07 P.M. EST, Mr. Peters placed a telephone call to the Flight Service Station in Leesburg, Virginia, the nearest such facility to College Park, Maryland. He spoke to Marquette Bradley, a flight service station specialist. Mr. Bradley was responsible for briefing pilots on weather information. The conversation lasted until 6:09 P.M. EST. Their conversation was taped.

 19. Mr. Bradley began to give Mr. Peters the latest Lynchburg weather. The decedent then interrupted Mr. Bradley's briefing to ask about the "dry bulb dew-point spread" for Lynchburg. Mr. Bradley told Mr. Peters: "Sure ah temperature is six seven dew-point six three."

 20. At this point in their conversation, Mr. Bradley told Mr. Peters that the forecast after nine p.m. local time was for "ceiling of fourteen hundred overcast, three miles light rain and fog but a variable ceiling of five hundred broken one mile rain and fog with a chance of thunderstorms. Mr. Peters responded to this by stating: "O'boy I think we'd better get down there quick."

 21. The conditions forecast for Lynchburg after 9 P.M. were IFR conditions in which Mr. Peters was not authorized to fly.

 22. A flight from College Park to Lynchburg in a Piper Tri-Pacer would take between one and two hours.

 23. Mr. Bradley then informed Mr. Peters that the forecast for before 9 P.M. was for a ceiling of three thousand broken with occasional visibility of three miles and light rain showers. These were marginal VFR conditions. If visibility slipped below three miles, conditions would have been I.F.R.

 24. Mr. Peters next statement was: "O.K. that doesn't sound too bad." At this point, decedent asked Mr. Bradley for a frequency to enable Mr. Peters to obtain clearance to penetrate a restricted area around Washington, D.C. Mr. Bradley provided the appropriate frequency. Mr. Peters then terminated the conversation.

 25. It was Mr. Bradley's practice in briefing pilots to answer the pilot's specific questions before gathering information about the pilot's trip and providing a complete weather briefing.

 26. Charlottesville, Virginia is between College Park, Maryland and Lynchburg, Virginia. Mr. Bradley did not report to Mr. Peters surface weather observations taken at the Charlottesville Airport at 4:46 P.M. and 5:54 P.M. EST.

 27. The Charlottesville weather observations showed the existence of marginal VFR conditions. The briefer's forecast for the weather before 9 p.m. accurately summarized the information available to the briefer. The Charlottesville observations essentially confirmed the information Mr. Bradley gave to Mr. Peters. The briefer's failure to ...


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