Dr. Ken Gottlieb’s Cessna 182 took off from Napa Airport with only Dr. Gottlieb aboard. As the Cessna climbed from the runway, it turned in the wrong direction. It collided with high terrain just north of the airport. Dr. Gottlieb was killed on impact. His body was ejected and the aircraft exploded and burned.

The NTSB ruled the crash was caused by pilot error, finding that Gottlieb encountered poor weather, became confused, and failed to follow the correct instrument departure procedure.Dr. Ken Gottlieb

The family asked us to investigate. We learned that Gottlieb’s instructor had flown with Gottlieb a few days before the crash. The instructor found Gottlieb (pictured right) to be well-versed in the Napa departure procedure and otherwise meticulous in his flying. The instructor felt it unlikely that Gottlieb would become confused and turn in the wrong direction. As far as the instructor was concerned, whatever caused the crash was “out of Ken’s control.”

Faride Khalaf (pictured below) was the plane’s mechanic.  We learned that Khalaf began working on general aviation aircraft only after he was fired from United Airlines. We uncovered evidence that Khalaf had performed maintenance on Gottlieb’s aircraft without properly recording the work in the aircraft’s logs. In fact, Khalaf performed undocumented repairs on the pilot’s seat just a few weeks before the crash.

We examined what little remained of the wreckage and found two things that were unusual. First, we saw evidence that, at the moment of impact, the pilot seat was in the full aft position. Second, the pilot’s seat belt was unbuckled.

Based on their forensic work, our experts testified that as Gottlieb climbed away from the runway, his seat suddenly and unexpectedly slid to its full aft position and jammed. Gottlieb’s hands and feet could not reach the aircraft’s controls and the aircraft flew off course, out of control. Gottlieb unbuckled his seat belt so that he could scoot on his knees up to the aircraft’s control wheel.  But before Dr. Gottlieb could regain control of the aircraft, it crashed into the hillside.

Faride KhalafThe pilot seat slid back and jammed because Khalaf’s undocumented work was improperly performed.  He charged the aircraft owners for new seat parts, but did not install them. Instead, he illegally jury-rigged the existing seat release mechanism. The faulty repair held up for a while, but failed just as Gottlieb took off, causing the seat to slide back and jam in place.

Making matters worse, we found emails from Khalaf on Gottlieb’s hard drive. Gottlieb had asked Khalaf to perform an annual inspection of the aircraft just days before the crash.   Khalaf’s emails confirmed that he had in fact "finished with the annual" and that the plane was "good to go."  Based on Khalaf’s confirmation that the plane was safe to fly, Gottlieb departed on his flight from Napa. But, in fact, Khalaf never inspected the plane at all. All he did was change the oil, to make it appear as though he had serviced the aircraft when in fact he had not.  Had Khalaf performed the inspection, he might have learned that his previous improper repairs were about to fail.  

Earlier this afternoon, the jury entered its verdict against Khalaf for $13,360,000. The verdict is believed to be a record amount in California for the death of someone over age 65.

Khalaf’s attorney quit the case one year before the trial was set to begin. Khalaf elected to representCessna 182 N23750 himself during the 7 day trial. Adbi Anvari of Air West Aircraft Engines testified as Khalaf’s expert.  Khalaf called Dr. John Kane to testify about medical issues that Khalaf contended afflicted the pilot, but the judge ruled the doctor to be unqualified and refused to allow him to take the stand.

Dr. Gottlieb was a prominent San Francisco forensic psychiatrist.  He left his wife Gale, daughter Tamar, and son, Mike who is a lawyer and special assistant to President Obama.

Before trial, Gottlieb’s family offered to drop the suit entirely if Khalaf agreed to surrender his mechanic’s license. Khalaf refused.  That means despite the verdict, Khalaf is still legally entitled to work on aircraft and return them to service.

 

 

Khalaf Verdict

  • john

    is this horrible violation of all that is holy about the aviation industry in the U.S. any different than the probable negative maintenance trends that are being documented at SWA? in my opinion, the FAA, for whatever reason, is directly responsible for an apparent slackening of oversight of the worlds best aviation systems. if our system is to remain the international standard, we must demand a reemphasis in enforcement and accountability at all levels of our industry. we should not allow a “third world mentality” to work it’s way into and destroy what is unequaled any where else in the world. so there!

  • Elayne

    Such a needless and tragic loss of such a wonderful husband, father and doctor!

  • I couldn’t agree more, John. This is so very sad. It didn’t have to happen. I watched my Dad inspect his aircraft himself, and teach his students how to do the same. There is no excuse for this mechanic to skimp on an annual inspection which is based on life or death. I am frustrated by this. What if it had been a 757 with 200 passengers? I am shocked and dismayed.

  • Bob Pasch

    It appears that Mr. Khalaf got his true dessert through the legal system but I don’t see any government action against him. Surely the NTSB & FAA investigated this accident. If their conclusions were as stated in this article, the FAA should have administratively terminated his license. To think this man is still actively “maintaining” aircraft is a slap in the face to legitimte A&Ps everywhere.

    I’m assuming that Mr. Khalaf is what I call a scab mechanic in that he does not operate a legitimate FBO, does not have the required tools & equipment, operates without current technical data, undercuts labor & parts prices and, in general, is a parasite to legitimate businesses in the area. The lesson learned here should be to all the owner-operators who patronize people like Mr. Khalaf in order to save money.

    You get what you pay for! If you can’t afford the maintenance, you can’t afford the aircraft! Maintenance IS NOT the place to skimp!

    Bob P
    Director of Maintenance
    Frederick Aviation
    1985-2007

  • Mike Danko

    Bob,

    Good points. You are correct that Khalaf did not have or use the current Cessna technical data when he worked on the plane. What’s surprising, however, is that he charged the aircraft’s owner top dollar — $125 per hour. So the owner paid him, for example, $3000 for a no-squawk annual inspection is 2007. On a C-182!

    Mike Danko

  • Kristin Winter

    Congratulations Mike. There is a shocking lack of professionalism in general aviation maintenance. I hope that this gets some attention.

    Kristin Winter, ATP, CFIAIM, A&P/IA, JD

  • Lerabou

    Although I have a keen interest in all things aviation, I have no expertise at all in this field, nor in legal matters. Could someone explain in layman terms the apparent contradiction between the technical findings that blame the pilot and the court ruling that concludes to the negligence, thus the responsibility, of the mechanic? And if thereis responsibility, what of its corollary, i.e., accountability other than financial? How come there seem to be no administratve consequences for the negligent party? Even though it is a 13-million slap on the wrist, it is a slap on the wrist nevertheless when loss of life occured. Different jurisdictions?

  • Mike Danko

    Lerabou,

    In my opinion, the NTSB chalks up too many accidents to pilot error that are in fact due to other causes.  I talk about the reasons why that happens here.  But in short, the NTSB doesn’t have to follow the rules of evidence, and doesn’t allow the pilot or the pilot’s representative to tell their side of the story.  For that reason (as well as a few others), the NTSB’s conclusions are entirely inadmissible in any court proceeding.  So a judge or jury may see evidence concerning the cause of a crash  that the NTSB never looked at and therefore may reach a different conclusion as to the crash’s cause.

    There are three ways an aircraft mechanic may be held responsible for causing a death:

    First, he may be prosecuted criminally.  This almost never happens, especially in this country.  The authorities simply do not see faulty maintenance as a criminal matter.

    Second, the FAA may take action against the mechanic’s license. But for that to happen, the mechanic must have violated a regulation.  There is no regulation prohibiting a mechanic from performing poor maintenance.  A mechanic certainly can lose his license if he falsifies a logbook.  But Khalaf was careful not to log any of his illegal or fraudulent work.  Thus, there is little the FAA could do.

    Finally, the pilot or the pilot’s family can sue the mechanic.  That’s what happened here. 

    The pilot’s family proved that the mechanic lied to the pilot concerning the condition of the aircraft, and, as a result, the pilot was killed.  That explains the verdict.  But because the lies weren’t in the logbook, the mechanic keeps his license and is free to work on other airplanes.

    Mike

  • Mark

    Out of curiosity, had the owner of this aircraft assured installation of Cessna SK210-174B? This kit is the secondary seat stop system recommended by Cessna. Barring taking the utmost care to accomplish the modifications by installation of the SK, did the owner/pilot show reasonable care by purchasing the secondary seat stops that are available at most pilot/aircraft supply businesses? It seems reasonable to assume that he had not as if he had, it is unlikely that the seat would have moved as the plaintiff alleges. I would be incredulous at any owner of a Cessna aircraft that is not aware of these units.
    I will be curious to read the transcripts of this case, as it is obvious that there are facts not stated in the article. If the technician indeed was guilty of the acts alleged, there should be retribution. However, as an aviator for 4 decades, having flown aircraft ranging from balloons to 747’s, I am finding it hard to agree that this pilot/owner shared no culpability.

  • Mike Danko

    Mark,

    Of course there are facts not stated in the blog.  After lall, the trial lasted seven days.

    There was expert testimony from a former NTSB investigator who had worked more than 50 Cessna crashes where seat slip was suspected.  There was also testimony from an A&P/IA who had maintained a small fleet of 182’s and was well familiar with seat issues.  What the jury heard was that this aircraft was a 1999 model 182S.   Cessna had by then abandoned the troublesome seat rails from previous years and began using rails similar to those in the Caravan.  Those rails are not subject to the Service Bulletin you mention and are, in general, "rock solid" absent extremely poor maintenance

    Furthermore, the jury heard that the pilot/owner would have had no way to detect the mechanic’s shoddy maintenance during his pre-flight inspection.  Rather, the pilot had to simply trust the mechanic.

    I’d be interested to hear more about why you feel the pilot was in some way responsible because it appeared to all in court that he was an innocent victim who could not have prevented the accident.  The mechanic’s own expert did not suggest otherwise.

    Mike Danko

  • Roy

    Am I reading this right? …expert testimony from an investigator who worked more than 50 crashes where seat slip was suspected. I experienced seat slip when I was a student pilot having just started to fly solo and if I did not let go of the control would have shot up and stalled. Obviously I survived but some, my condolances, are not so fortunate. Maybe my surviving wife could have collected some judgement money if things had ended differently. Irregardless, seat slip is a huge design issue. In this case the mechanic was held responsible. Yes, the Service Bulletin does not apply. What happens if in the future a service bulletin is incorporated for this rock solid system? Is the technician still considered a shoddy maintenance mechanic? Obviously there was an issue with the seat locking mechanism or no maintenance would have been initiated on it. It is easy to paint someone as a shoddy mechanic just as it is easy to say pilot error. As an operator you are aware of the problems on your aircraft in many instances and a faulty locking mechanism is one of them. Is it possible that this was brought to the attention of the mechanic? I would be willing to bet a positive yes. Did the mechanic attempt to correct it? I dont know because supposedly there are no records of that. Was the operator aware the mechanic worked on the seat lock… without the proper replacement parts, to keep the pilot flying? My guess another yes. Possibly he did not make the mechanism any worse nor improve its functionality. I understand this technician had no representation (lawyer) in court, which pretty much sealed his fate on the outcome of this case. I see people lashing out at the FAA, cheap maintenance, the NTSB, the technician lied to the pilot and was fired from United airlines. I smell a rat. Just stating he was fired from United raises a flag when he may have been fired for excessive abscenses or another non related issue. The log book states work performed. If the log book was not complete or inspections not up to date, the aircraft was not airworthy.

  • Mike Danko

    Roy, 

    Not really sure what you mean when you say you "smell a rat."  Are you saying that you don’t think the mechanic did anything wrong?
     
    The mechanic charged the aircraft owner for installing a $513 genuine Cessna part that he never installed.  Instead, he jury-rigged the broken part and kept the money.  That’s not right.
     
    An expert testified that jury-rigging the seat release mechanism as the mechanic did, rather than replacing the part with a new one as he was supposed to, can cause the seat to slip and get stuck. Perhaps as bad, when the mechanic made his illegal repair, he failed to replace a stop bolt that is crucial to the seat’s safe operation.  Cessna warns that if the bolt is not replaced, the plane could crash on takeoff. That’s exactly what happened. That’s not enough for you?
     
    The pilot would not have flown the plane at all except for the fact that the mechanic told the pilot that he had finished with the annual and that the plane "good to go." In, in fact, the mechanic had not even started the annual. He lied to the pilot because he wanted to get paid for work he didn’t actually do. Even the mechanic’s own expert testified that the pilot must be able to trust the word of the mechanic.
     
    So what is it about holding this mechanic responsible for this crash makes you uncomfortable?
     
    Mike 
     
     

  • David FitzGerald

    The NTSB, if it has any ethics at all, shall amend it’s its apparently poor, incomplete, negligent findings in this case to reflect the pure and obvious story that the wreckage and ejection of the pilot tell. Only then can the NTSB resolve itself of the soil on it’s record with this one. Ethics NTSB? You have some yes? Please do the right thing at least for the legacy of this pilots record and your integrity.

  • John Wilson

    Congratulations on this wonderful – for the family – judgment. However, as a pilot with 5000+ hours in the C-182 aircraft I can’t help but note the facts delivered by the radar system recordings (early turn on course, no sign of uncontrolled climb) do not square with the theories advanced to the jury regarding seat-slip as a cause.

  • Rocky Gulding

    @John Wilson – Seat slip results in feet coming off the rudder pedal, plane turning left. NTSB says this plane turned left. No uncontrolled climb if pilot lets go. Why doesn’t it square? Seems right on.

  • J.D. Bumgarner

    As a mechanic of almost 20 years, I have worked on planes from a C-152 to a KC-10, and have ran across a good number of total HATCHET mechanics…Don’t know all the facts pertaining to this incident, and won’t even attempt to speculate. That being said, I have noticed that the quality and standards that we should hold ourselves to, and be held to by our peers and customers, is not where it should be. This is not inherent to all mechanics, as most of us (I truly hope..) care a great deal about the job we do, and the quality of the product we put forth. It infuriates me as a mechanic to see shoddy mx done on any aircraft. There is simply no excuse for it. Pilots and passengers put their lives in our hands, and deserve to have the mx done correctly. Pilot error or not, this hack did some serious third world maintenance, and shouldn’t be allowed to work on a lawnmower, much less an aircraft. Pilots have to be able to trust us to ensure airworthiness with regards to mx, and we have to be able to trust the pilots to give us good feedback regarding performance/system operation, in case a problem arises. Trust is a two way street. This guy obviously took advantage of this pilot. The FAA should have revoked his ticket as soon as it was determined he jury-rigged the seat, whether it ultimately contributed to the crash or not. We have to hold each other’s feet to the fire, pilot and mechanic, or this crap will keep on happening. I don’t want our aerospace system (all aspects) to become third world. We should strive to maintain being the gold standard by which all others should aspire to (wish that was still the case, but…). The FAA dropped the ball on this one not going after this guy. No telling how many others this guy has forked.

    J.D. Bumgarner
    A&P/IA

  • Skeptical

    “The NTSB ruled the crash was caused by pilot error, finding that Gottlieb encountered poor weather, became confused, and failed to follow the correct instrument departure procedure.

    The family asked us to investigate…”.

    If I understand hired “us” to investigate, that means the family hired their own lawyers to do an investigation. That investigation, performed by parties representing the family, found no fault for the family member. Not surprising. When do they?

    Investigations by the legal team representing one side of a civil lawsuit can hardly be considered impartial. I’d like to see the results of an in-depth independent investigation, but that seems unlikely.

  • Cary Alburn

    I’m about to have the Cessna auxiliary seat stop installed for the pilot seat in my airplane. It was to have been done today, but weather is preventing me from going to the facility that is scheduled to do the work. But until then, there has been a cross bar in the tracks that prevents the seat from slipping too far, and in addition, I have a pair of “Saf-T-Stops” which clamp to the seat rails. Although the cross bar will be removed (which has been frankly a pain in the neck, making it difficult to get in and out of the pilot seat), the “Saf-T-Stops” will remain on both the pilot and passenger seats. It’s the belt & suspenders theory of self-protection; at $45/pair, they’re cheap insurance.

    While I can agree that the mechanic here bore the greater responsibility to make sure the seat stop mechanism had been properly repaired, the pilot should have had some form of auxiliary seat stop installed and in use. That Cessna seats have slid unexpectedly has been known for years and years; no conscientious owner should disregard that possibility, even in the newer versions. Whether it’s called contributory negligence or comparative negligence, the owner was part of the equation.

    Lastly, pretty clearly the mechanic was at a severe disadvantage in the courtroom. “Someone who represents himself has a fool for a client” is accurate–it’s simply not possible for a litigant to be objective, even if he/she knows the law. If he stumbled due to his inexpertise in the law (very likely) and lack of objectivity (a given), and plaintiffs’ counsel took advantage of that, and the court held him to too high a standard, a successful appeal may very well change things.

    It’s easy to pontificate that the size of the verdict means more than it does, all things considered. What it really means is that the mechanic was incompetently represented, regardless of how well the plaintiffs were represented.

  • Tom

    Knucklehead, read the preovious comments. This was a different seat rail, the “Saft-T-Stops” don’t work. And maybe his lawyer quit because he was lying sack of s–t.

  • Tom Jensen

    Insightful comments, Cary. “…fool for a client..” nails it, something my dad (a country lawyer and later superior court judge) used to advise. I had the seat slip on a rented 1975 C182 in 1981 on a short grass strip with trees at the end; the main problem, since it was trimmed correctly, was that I initially couldn’t get enough rudder in to counter the P factor. It took a second to grab the hoop and pull the seat back into place. I was lucky, probably, but it led to me maintaining seat tracks and having the Cessna stops and later the “reel” option on my 180. I.e., me and the doctor owned some responsibility. The $13..something M settlement seems ridiculous, which would serve the “fool” appropriately; but whose deep pockets got stuck with the settlement?

  • Mike Danko

    Cary and Tom

    The seat rails on the 182-S are nothing like the rails on the Cessnas that preceded it. The rails on the 182-S are not subject to the AD’s issued as a result of previous seat slip accidents. There is no record of the new-style rails ever slipping absent extremely poor maintenance. There are no aftermarket devices (such as Saf-T-Stops) that the owner or pilot can install to prevent the new-style rails from slipping in the event of a maintenance-induced failure. See my previous comment and the links to the maintenance manual.

    In this case the mechanic defrauded the owner by charging him for new seat parts that he did not install. Then he falsely represented to the owner that the seat had been properly repaired and was safe when in fact it was not.

    There was nothing the pilot could have done to detect the fraud, discover that the maintenance was faulty, or avoid the accident.

    A lawyer may not allow his client to testify to what the lawyer knows to be a lie. If faced with that situation, the lawyer must quit the case. Here, the mechanic’s lawyer quit the case. There’s no reason to believe the verdict would have been different had the mechanic found a lawyer willing to participate in the presentation of demonstrably false testimony.

    Mike

  • Brian Jones

    Have they checked this mechanic out carefully, maybe he has connections to some middle east muslim extremist group.

  • keath heyn

    Folks, does anyone within 100 miles of this town/community really expect ANYONE to retain this deceitful bastard to work on their plane ??
    Most important, someone needs to keep track of this lowlife should he move away —and inform the G.A. community there about his sorry work ethics. He should never work on a/c in this country again.

  • Mike Poindexter
  • Mike Danko

    @Mike Poindexter –

    The problem seems to be that while the regs require the mechanic to log his work, they don’t say by when he must do that. Apparently the FAA accepts “I hadn’t gotten around to it yet” as a defense. That makes the regulations, for all practical purposes, unenforceable.

    Mike Danko

  • Kevin Shields

    I am in no way an aviation anything, but that mechanic needs to be in jail!!!!