April 9 2005 - DEVELOPER SUES FAA IN FAMILY'S FATAL CRASH
A prominent Central Florida developer has filed a $30 million wrongful death suit against the Federal Aviation Administration for the 2002 plane crash deaths of his wife and son in Osceola County.
The federal lawsuit filed by Alan Ginsburg charges that FAA air-traffic controllers failed to alert his 38-year-old son to severe-weather reports on a return flight from Lantana to Orlando. Ginsburg owns CED Cos., a $1 billion housing an management company with extensive holdings nationwide.
A National Transportation Safety Board report released in 2004 lists the "pilot's continued path into known severe weather" as the accident's probable cause. As contributing factors, the report says FAA controllers also failed to update the pilot with weather data.
"Factors in this accident were heavy thunderstorm, and failure of the FAA controllers to provide the pilot [with] information on observed weather areas and . . . forecasted adverse weather conditions," the NTSB report said.
Jeffrey Ginsburg was flying his mother, Harriet Ginsburg, 62, in a single-engine Piper Saratoga at 7,000 feet when he lost control in a storm. According to the NTSB report, the plane plummeted to the ground in less than a minute in the Sept. 24, 2002, fatal crash near Yeehaw Junction off U.S. 441.
The suit, filed last month in Orlando, accuses the FAA air-traffic control controllers in South Florida of "negligence and carelessness." The suit's cover sheet briefly describes the case: "Airplane crash resulting from negligence of the FAA and air traffic controller."
Kathleen Bergen, an FAA spokeswoman in Atlanta, on Friday said the agency "does not comment on pending litigation." Bergen, however, said two of three controllers accused of wrongdoing in Ginsburg's suit -- Joseph E. Nelson and Pedro Gonzalez -- are still employed by the FAA. Mitten Swartzwelder, an FAA supervisor named in the suit, has since retired.
NTSB citations of air-traffic control errors are not uncommon, according to government data.
Since 2000, the NTSB has cited FAA controllers as having contributed to accidents or incidents at least 36 times. Fifteen of those were fatal collisions or accidents. But references to failures by FAA controllers to communicate weather reports are rare, according to documents and aviation experts.
In past lawsuits alleging negligence by FAA employees, the agency has sometimes reached out-of-court settlements with families of those involved in airplane crashes.
A veteran crash investigator and aviator who reviewed Ginsburg's case at the request of the Orlando Sentinel said unforeseen weather can occur at any time, and FAA controllers don't always know what pilots are flying into.
"It's not so much erroneous as it is incomplete," noted William Waldock, a professor of safety science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz., of the communications between the FAA controllers and the pilot.
Jeffrey Ginsburg, an attorney who got his pilots license in June 2000, had 397 flight hours, which Waldock said is not significant experience. The pilot's inexperience may have accounted for his flying into stormy weather, Waldock said.
"Looking at it from both sides, the FAA controllers didn't give him enough information," Waldock said. "But at the same time, if he had an active [weather] radar on the airplane, he should have seen the thunderstorm . . . This is not defending the FAA. A lot of times these [severe-weather] situations can change pretty fast."
At the time of the crash, Alan Ginsburg said his son flew his mother to the family condo in Palm Beach at her request often.
"He had flown her there many times before," he said. "They were very close."