Girl sues pilots after ’09 crash at Truckee Tahoe Airport
Nevada Appeal News Service
TRUCKEE – A teenage girl who was a passenger in a near-fatal plane crash last year at Truckee Tahoe Airport has filed a lawsuit alleging two pilots were negligent because they filled their aircraft with too much fuel before takeoff.
On Sept. 7, 2009, Marilyn Mitchell, then 14, was flying with pilots Karen and Steve Trolan and the Trolans’ daughter. They were headed for San Jose, Calif., when shortly after takeoff from the Truckee airport, the plane, a Cessna P206B, crashed. All four passengers are from Los Gatos, Calif.
Mitchell’s lawyer, Michael Danko, of San Mateo, Calif., said Mitchell suffered numerous injuries, including a broken back in six places, four cracked ribs, two bruised lungs, a massive contusion to her chest and a brain hemorrhage, accompanied with a concussion.
Mitchell filed a personal injury lawsuit against the Trolans in Santa Clara County Superior Court on Nov. 22 for an unspecified amount in damages. The girl suffers from ongoing injuries, Danko said.
Danko argues the plane crash was a result of negligence on the part of the Trolans, of Trolan Enterprises, because they loaded the plane with excessive amounts of fuel – since fuel is cheaper in Truckee than San Jose, he said – thus making the plane too heavy for takeoff.
“It looks like they were trying to save a few bucks on fuel … but unfortunately it looks like they put themselves and their passengers at risk,” Danko said.
Reading from a prepared statement crafted by her attorney, Karen Trolan, said in a phone interview this week that her preflight preparations were within normal safety parameters for her aircraft, which she said had been appropriately modified to operate in Truckee’s typical weather conditions.
Trolan said she had made a flight from Truckee the previous day.
“I had carefully planned the flight including checking the weight and performance charts,” Karen Trolan said. “We were well within both the weight and performance limitations of the airplane for the conditions and this has been confirmed in the National Transportation Safety Board report (filed after the crash).”
According to that report, the estimated weight of the airplane at the time of the accident was about 3,396 pounds. The maximum gross weight for the airplane was 3,600 pounds.
“The airplane had been fueled prior to takeoff, but I was not ‘tankering’ fuel to save money,” Karen Trolan said. “I had planned the flight including the weight of the fuel.”
According to the suit, the Trolans’ major error, Danko argues, centered on a disregard for the high-density altitude or “thin air” for which Truckee Tahoe Airport is known. Danko said pilots are required to load aircraft in relation to atmospheric conditions to ensure they have adequate climbing performance.
“Despite the warm weather and razor-thin performance margins, defendants (Karen and Steve Trolan) loaded fuel to the brims of the aircraft’s tanks. The excess fuel weighed hundreds of pounds,” Danko wrote in the suit.
Karen Trolan said her aircraft was equipped with a Short Takeoff and Landing kit (STOL), which enabled it to fly at lower airspeeds than a standard, unmodified plane.
“In fact, the aircraft speed noted in the NTSB report is more than that, twice the speed at which this airplane would stop developing lift from the wings,” Trolan said.
While admitting no wrongdoing, Karen Trolan said her insurance company has made offers to Mitchell for her injuries, offers Trolan said that have been refused by Danko. Furthermore, she said her family was injured far more than Mitchell during the crash.
“I am now a paraplegic because of the accident,” she said. “My daughter has had her vertebrae fused and my husband also had several spinal compression fractures.”