On December 8, 2008, a United States Marine Corps Miramar F/A-18 Hornet crashed on a suburban neighborhood of San Diego, California. This incident occurred when the aircraft was flying back from a military training in the offshore of San Diego with the controllers at USS Abraham Lincoln. The aircraft crashed due to mechanical failure attributed to negligence in maintenance. At that incident, the pilot from VMFAT-101, First Lieutenant Dan Neubeaur (28) was the only one on flight. In the process of attempting to fly to uninhabited regions, the aircraft’s engines failed. After the engine malfunctioned, he ejected victoriously and managed to land in a tree. This was due to the errors made by the pilot and the USMC personnel on the routine invigilation of the aircraft. The aircraft crashed on the suburban area of the city leading to destruction of some residential buildings. Additionally, four people were killed. These included two women and two children (Haines, 2008).
Description of the crash
The crash occurred on December 8, 2008 when First lieutenant Neubauer based at MCAS Miramar was flying F/A-18D Hornet from VMFAT-101. In the company of other VMFAT-101 planes, he was undertaking day and night carrier qualifications from USS Abraham Lincoln at the coast of SD. At that moment, Lt. Neubauer was the only person on board though it was a two-seat plane.
After the plane took off at around eleven in the morning, the pilot noticed an alarm of the shortage of oil from the right engine. In the struggle to solve the qualm, he shut down the engine. This prompted him to announce the emergency. In this regard, the ground guides initially directed him to head straight to Naval Air Station North Island. Later, the superior officer intervened and redirected him to their home base. After attempting to make an emergency landing at his home base, Miramar, both engines failed and therefore he lost the power necessary for landing. Considering the plane failure, he ejected while the plane flew eastwards with declining altitude and spilling fuel.
The pilot reported that at an altitude of two-thousand feet, the left engine provided low thrust due to oil shortage. In the attempt to restart the right engine, the right engine never responded. At that moment, the engine could no longer provide sufficient thrust and later led to lose of power. This was because the power generator failed leading to lose of electrical power within the aircraft (Admin, 2009). With no means of propulsion, the aircraft was bound to crash.
The pilot, having failed to control the aircraft, ejected himself and the plane flew over the city crashing in the suburban region about two miles from the home base, Miramar. After ejecting himself, he landed on a tree. Meanwhile, the plane crashed on the residential buildings causing damage to about five houses and killing four people. Upon the tracing of the pilot, he underwent medication due to mild injuries and psychological trauma from the incident. Because of the devastating nature of the crash, no material wealth was recovered from the buildings damaged.
After the occurrence of the crash, the Marine Corps undertook an investigation to unravel its cause. The investigation aimed at reveling why the left engine had failed to provide the pilot with adequate thrust, which would enable the aircraft to fly to home base, Miramar. In this exercise, the flight participants were interrogated and their previous duties assessed to determine the cause of the incidence. Under the list of those who participated in the flight included the pilot, the squadron commander, the maintenance officer, and operations officers. Investigators extracted the remains of the crashed aircraft and took them to UMCS home base to simulate earlier conditions before the crash.
Upon the conclusion of the investigation, the Marine Corps declared that the crash was a preventable event that could have not occurred if the concerned individuals observed appropriate measures. The report presented was critical to the demeanor of the concerned parties before and during the flight. The marines, who included the pilot and other operations officers, were condemned for their inefficiency in performance. As a result, they underwent disciplinary actions after being relieved off their duties (Jenks, 2008).
In the findings of the investigation, analysts established that the aircraft left engine had a series of problems several months prior to the incident. Despite this knowledge, the mechanics postpone the maintenance of the fuel flow system in the left engine. This was a common phenomenon exercised after the introduction of maintenance rules and procedures. Similarly, reports indicate that the flight had flown almost one hundred and six times after the first detection of the fuel flow problem in the left engine. This problem emanated from the fact that the left engine could not receive adequate supply of fuel when the right engine was not operating. For this reason, the left engine lost power and was unable to provide the required thrust and electrical power. When the pilot made the emergency call, controllers aboard the Abraham Lincoln directed him to Naval Air station North Island that was nearest. However, his superior advised him to fly to their home base. After evaluating the two advices, he disregarded the initial directions although the aircraft had already failed.
Another critical mistake of the pilot was his disregard to go through the checklist when the plane’s left engine had failed. Considering his decision to fly two-seventy degrees to Miramar instead of a ninety-degree turn to North Island worsened the situation. In this regard, the report condemned the actions of Lt. Neubauer during the flight, which resulted in loss of lives and property. Based on this investigation, several similar aircrafts underwent through checkup to establish if they had similar problems to avoid future reoccurrence of the same event.
Details of the law issues
After the occurrence of the crash, several lawsuits were anticipated to arise since lives were lost due to negligence of the pilot and other operations officers. In this regard, the citizens affected by the crash could be the potential plaintiff of F-18 crash case. Among the likely plaintiffs, included foreigners and U.S citizens affected. These individuals would have possibly sued the F-18 pilot for killing their families or injuring them. Similarly, the affected individuals could have opted to sue the aircraft manufacturer for the SD fighter jet crash (Jenks, 2008).
In the case of military aircraft lawsuits, the participants were likely to be subjected to the Discretionary Function Exception. Since the nature of the negligence of the participants during the flight involved inappropriate decision-making and policy judgment, the federal government was supposed to immunize it for the negligence. Nevertheless, the individuals who through their malpractices contributed to the air crash were suppose to face the law. Therefore, the pilot undertook discretionary functions. In this regard, immunity was awarded to the negligence of the maintenance crew that triggered the air crash. Similarly, the immunity would entail the denial to use modern and safer modern aviation techniques. Thus, the pilot had immunity from any lawsuit directed to him by affected individuals.
Depending on the way in which the suit is structured, the affected individuals would sue the government. This is mainly due to the fact the government official, the pilot, out of his negligence caused adverse effects on the lives of those affected. This implies that the government was bound to compensate the affected individuals. Similarly, the government was to take precautionary measures to counter future reoccurrence of miseries to the victims of the crash.
Federal Tort Claims Act Results
In the process of addressing the lawsuit against the government for the alleged crash that caused death to innocent civilians, the Federal Tort Claims Act was adopted. The Act provided the consideration of the government as an individual entity due to the negligence of its employees. In this case, the government was answerable for the acts of the pilot, but not the government directly. The individual affected by the crash filed a lawsuit for claims from the government with government agencies before the end of two years. The government agencies involved disposed off the Tort Claim from which the victims could sue in the court.
At the trial, only one judge oversaw the proceedings. This was because of the Federal Tort Claims Act rule that states that at a trial involving the US government, a jury is avoided (Admin, 2009). In this regard, the state substantive law was to be used to address the case. Therefore, the attorney’s fees are charged, but do not accumulate to twenty-five percent of the whole case. Nevertheless, the punitive charges are not charge to the government. This is despite the fact that the Federal Tort Claims Act has exceptions to the government with the verdict of the case. On this case, the government was compelled to compensate the individuals affected by air crash. In this event, the judge admitted to the negligence of the government employees, which contributed to the crash causing the death of some citizens and destruction. As a result, the government had to meet the allocated compensation to the victims of the crash.