On the same day that Trans State Airlines officials said they would pull out of Joplin and were working with RegionsAir to provide service for Joplin, RegionsAir and American Airlines agreed to pay nearly $12.5 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit filed following a 2004 crash that killed 11 in Kirksville.
According to documents filed in U. S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, $12,475,000 will be paid to the widow and three children of Dr. Steven Zane Miller, who was killed Oct. 19, 2004, in the crash of a RegionsAir flight as it was approaching the Kirksville Regional Airport. The documents do not specify which company will be paying how much money to the Millers.
The settlement agreement came less than two weeks after a report was issued by the National Transportation Safety Board blaming pilot error for the crash. Though RegionsAir was absolved of any blame, the report indicated that fatigue may have played a major factor in the accident. The report has renewed scrutiny of federal regulations that permit pilots to fly up to 16 hours a day, far more than in some other countries, including the United Kingdom, which limits pilots to nine hours.
RegionsAir and American Airlines, which arranged the flight under its AmericanConnection program, stand to pay out a lot more money in coming months since lawsuits have also been filed in U. S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri and in Dallas County Circuit Court in Texas in connection with the crash.
In that Jan. 26 report, the NTSB says the flight "struck trees on final approach and crashed short of runway 36 at the Kirksville Regional Airport." Eleven of the 13 passengers were killed with the other two receiving serious injuries.
"The airplane was destroyed by impact and a post-impact fire," the report said. The pilots failed to follow established procedure and were cited for "unprofessional behavior during the flight." The report noted, "Their fatigue likely contributed to their degraded performance."
The report cited "nonessential conversation," and said the pilot did not continue getting readings from his instruments to try to deal with low visibility. Instead, he was trying to look out the window, a task which should have been left to the co-pilot.
The Dallas County lawsuit alleges, "As evidenced by cockpit voice recordings and the recorded flight data, the flight crew demonstrated carelessness, recklessness, and utter disregard for the safety of the passengers during the conduct of the flight."
The lawsuit also says, "The flight crew was flippant and failed to follow proper cockpit procedures during all phases of the flight and was completely unprepared for the difficult approach which they knew awaited them in Kirksville. Their conduct was especially irresponsible and reckless given the low visibility and low ceilings prevailing at Kirksville.
The "unprofessional" conversations were explained more fully in an article in the Jan. 25 Washington Post. The article begins, "Shortly before the aircraft crashed into trees, the two crew members on Corporate Airlines Flight 5966 (the crash occurred before the company changed its name to RegionsAir) were joking with each other, discussing co-workers they didn't like and how it would be nice to eat a Philly cheese steak."
Just as disturbing as the non-essential conversation was the amount of air time logged by the crew. The Post article says pilot Kim Sasse, 48, and co-pilot Jonathan Palmer, 29, "were trying to land their sixth flight of the day after more than 14 hours on the job."
This is not an uncommon occurrence with many airlines, not just RegionsAir, the Post article indicated. "As major airlines struggle," Duane Woerth, president of the Air Line Pilots Association told the newspaper, "they are squeezing more hours out of pilots to contain costs. Pilots used to be able to negotiate shorter shifts as part of their labor agreements, but as several major carriers, including United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Northwest Air Lines and US Airways have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, the agreements are being thrown out and more pilots are being scheduled for the maximum 16-hour days."