We knew from the surviving passenger that the Cirrus’ engine quit before crashing at Morton, Washington.  But did the engine quit because of a mechanical problem? Or did it quit, perhaps, due to fuel starvation?

I discussed those questions here, days after the accident happened.  Now, a year later, the NTSB says the engine failure was the result of both.  Or, more accurately, fuel starvation caused by faulty maintenance.

Not surprisingly, the surviving passenger has sued Auburn Flight Service, which performed theMorton Washington Cirrus Crash Photo by Sarah Erskine faulty maintenance.  From the NTSB’s report, it seems that Auburn Flight Service’s liability is clear.  When putting the plane’s fuel system back together just 11 hours before the crash, it failed to tighten a cap on the throttle and metering-assembly inlet.  The cap came loose in flight.  That allowed fuel to escape the assembly and flow overboard without getting to the engine. 

The loose cap wasn’t caught and the aircraft was released to the pilot because Auburn failed to perform the "post-service inspection" it boasts of on its website.

Auburn Flight Service has not taken responsibility for the crash.  It reports that it feels badly, but not, apparently, for anything it may have done or failed to do.

Everyone at Auburn feels very badly about this tragic accident as we would any tragic accident where people were injured or killed."

One would think that, in this case, the Auburn folks would feel just a little worse than usual.

The injured passenger, who was the pilot’s employee, also sued the pilot’s estate. Why? Well, certainly there will be questions raised concerning the pilot’s decision to attempt to land in a field, rather than deploy the aircraft’s parachute.  Many Cirrus pilots would argue that the parachute should be deployed in any case of engine failure, unless there is a long, paved runway beneath the aircraft such that a safe on-airport landing is assured. Interestingly, however, the NTSB did not cite the pilot’s failure to deploy the parachute as a contributing factor. 

Regardless, the "pilot error" part of the case is apt to be quite controversial.  That’s if the passenger’s case against the pilot’s estate makes it past the workers’ compensation defense.