Medflight Crash of Pilatus Aircraft Operated by Care Flight in Stagecoach, NV
February 25, 2023
A Pilatus PC-12 airplane operating as a medical transport flight, crashed on Friday evening, February 24, 2023 near Stagecoach, Nevada, about 25 miles southeast of Reno. Five people were tragically killed as a result of the crash - pilot, flight nurse, flight paramedic, the patient and his wife. The flight had departed from Reno-Tahoe International Airport and was on its way to Salt Lake City International Airport approximately 90 minutes away. The flight was known as a Care Flight, a program of REMSA Health, located in Reno, NV and the plane was owned and operated by Guardian Flight of Salt Lake City, Utah.
Kreindler is closely monitoring this crash and investigation as we have successfully represented numerous families following crashes of EMS, medical, medevac and air ambulance flights in which crew and passengers lost their lives.
Former Navy pilot and Kreindler attorney Dan Rose was interviewed by the Associated Press following NTSB reports that part of the right wing was found far from the site of the main wreckage.
We hope the NTSB will investigate Guardian Flight’s decision to fly instead of waiting for the winter storm to pass.
Investigators will undoubtedly analyze local weather conditions at the time of the plane’s loss of communication with air traffic control. According to the Reno Gazette Journal, resident Misty Gruenemay said the wind was howling and the snow blowing hard when she heard the crash from her Stagecoach, NV home. “It was snowing and visibility was horrible. I don’t even understand why that plane was allowed to take off.”
In the article, ”When Rescue is Too Risky,” written for Trial Magazine, Kreindler partner and veteran U.S. Marine helicopter pilot Justin Green notes, “hazardous medevac flights too often endanger the lives they were dispatched to save.” Green also warns of “vague rules for flights in limited-visibility conditions.”
The practice of flying out in bad weather and hoping for the best has been identified as an ongoing problem by both the FAA and the NTSB
In the Media
Kreindler’s EMS Medical Air Ambulance Case Experience
Kreindler has significant experience investigating and litigating claims arising out of EMS, medical, air ambulance and care flight fixed-wing flight accidents. These cases include:
Current Reno, Nevada Medical Flight Crash Case
Kreindler partner and former U.S. Navy carrier pilot Dan Rose, and attorney Vincent Lesch are prosecuting a case arising from the 2016 Nevada crash of an American Med Flight air ambulance shortly after takeoff in Elko, Nevada. The case is pending in Reno.
In the Elko crash, a Cheyenne Twin Engine Piper II airplane, carrying a heart patient, crashed shortly after takeoff killing all four people on board. Kreindler attorneys have already made significant achievements in the case - successfully unraveling a very complicated corporate shell structure surrounding aircraft ownership and operation involving some of the same companies involved in this crash.
Kreindler attorneys Rose and Lesch were also able to successfully defeat an attempt by the defense to apply workers compensation rules to the cases of the paramedic and nurse who were killed as a result of the crash.
University of Michigan Transplant Flight Crash
In another Kreindler medical flight case, six people were killed including two surgeons (whose families Kreindler later represented) while transporting a medical team on a survival flight mission to harvest lungs for a waiting patient at the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor. Our firm successfully resolved claims arising from this tragic 2007 crash involving the Cessna Citation II 550 business jet. The primary cause of the crash was found to be piloting errors by the flight crew. In addition to reconstructing the accident flight and dissecting the pilot actions in the cockpit, Kreindler’s investigation scrutinized the training and hiring practices of the operator and found them to be wanting.
As a result of the investigation, several important safety recommendations were proposed to the FAA.
Possible Causes of the Stagecoach, NV Accident
It is still early in the investigation into the cause of this tragedy which is being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). But from publicly available information regarding the flight, Kreindler attorneys can begin an analysis. For example, we can study the limited communication between the pilot and air traffic control.
Publicly available ATC tapes show that the pilot had difficulty finding the runway for takeoff likely because of reduced visibility.
Weather will no doubt be looked at closely given the weather conditions at the time of the plane’s takeoff and loss of communication with air traffic control. At the time of the takeoff, visibility was under two miles with a cloud ceiling about 2,000 feet above ground, according to the National Weather Service. It was also snowing steadily in the Crash area. Winds were around 20 mph with gusts up to 30 mph from the north/northeast and there was a weather warning issued for moderate turbulence. According to the Reno Gazette Journal, resident Misty Gruenemay said the wind was howling and the snow blowing hard when she heard the crash from her home. Another resident told the Reno Gazette Journal that she never saw the plane, despite walking within 20 or 30 feet of it, due to the blowing snow.
Piloting and Human Factors
Investigators will study the flight track to help determine weather, what happened, and what actions the pilot took.
The publicly available flight path data suggests a loss of control possibly due to spatial disorientation.
Even when there may be evidence of pilot error, it is rare not to discover multiple failures and factors that converged and caused the catastrophe. Investigators will also focus on the condition of the aircraft and whether any systems or components failed or contributed to loss of control of the aircraft. They will certainly examine the flight track and whether pilot error contributed to the crash. It is important to remember that most crashes involve multiple failures and factors that converge and cause catastrophe. Aircraft System Failure/Fault Investigators will likely start by examining the condition of the propeller and internal components of the turboprop engine to determine whether any conditions point to an engine failure of some kind. They will also focus on the condition of all flight critical aircraft systems, such as the fuel system, aircraft controls and electronic flight control systems.
The Kreindler firm has represented families in other Pilatus PC-12 crashes that involved failures in both the fuel system and electrical system. Of particular note, the Pilatus PC-12’s stall and spin characteristics have played a role in previous Pilatus PC-12 crashes.
The Pilatus PC-12 Aircraft
The Pilatus PC-12 is a single-engine turboprop passenger aircraft designed for the civilian general aviation market. Pilatus is based in Switzerland, although the majority of the company’s PC-12 airplanes are ultimately sold in the United States. The specific Pilatus PC-12 involved in this tragic crash, tail number N273SM, was a fixed-wing single-engine turboprop made in 2002 and registered to Guardian Flight, an air medical service provider based in South Jordan, Utah.
Kreindler’s Previous Pilatus PC-12 Cases
Kreindler has represented families in several previous Pilatus PC-12 crashes in which passengers lost their lives, including:
- 2005 Pilatus PC-12 Plane Crash near Bellefonte, Pennsylvania
- 2009 Pilatus PC-12 Plane Crash near Butte, Montana
Our investigation and prosecution of the 2005 Bellefonte, PA airplane crash was led by Kreindler partner Anthony Tarricone. The investigation revealed failures in the electrical system, which rendered the anti-stall stick-pusher inoperative. After an engine flameout the aircraft stalled and entered a deadly spin at low altitude when the stick-pusher failed to activate.
In the 2009 Pilatus crash in Butte, Montana, the aircraft experienced dangerous imbalance when the fuel system transferred all fuel on board to one wing tank, creating extreme lateral imbalance when a recurring low fuel pressure condition activated an electric fuel pump that repeatedly transferred fuel from one wing tank to the other over an extended period of flight. Most notably, the PC-12’s Caution and Warning System (CAWS) failed to warn the pilot of the low fuel pressure due to the way the CAWS software was programmed. In moments before the fatal crash, the pilot lost control due to the imbalance and the airplane stalled and crashed killing all 14 persons on board.
It’s notable that during litigation of the 2009 Butte, Montana case, Kreindler’s investigation identified numerous, critical failures of the fuel system, CAWS and Aircraft Flight Manual as contributing causes of the crash.
Known Issues with the Pilatus PC-12 Airplane
Over the years there has been intense litigation against Pilatus due to several critical design and system defects.
Hazardous Stall Characteristics
When the Pilatus PC-12 was initially certified it exhibited hazardous stall characteristics. In order to meet Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification requirements, Pilatus proposed that the aircraft be equipped with what is called an anti-stall stick-pusher system as a means of preventing the PC-12 aircraft from stalling and entering a spin — a condition that creates a significant risk of loss of controlled flight. The stick-pusher is designed to warn pilots of impending stalls and automatically lowers the nose of the aircraft when stall conditions are detected to increase the lift produced by the wings and keep the plane flying. However, even though this addition to the design was certified by the FAA, the anti-stall stick-pusher system failed to perform as intended and did not change the hazardous aerodynamic characteristics of the airplane. The stick-pusher system has been the subject of two safety-related Airworthiness Directives issued by the FAA.
Cold Weather Issues
The PC-12 aircraft also has a history of problems in cold weather operations, including issues that can affect the fuel system.
General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994
Because the aircraft was manufactured more than 18 years ago, the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994 (GARA) will come into play with any litigation evolving from this tragedy. GARA is a tort reform measure that imposes an eighteen-year statute of repose for general aviation aircraft. There is a medical exception to GARA rules - if the victim of the crash is a passenger on an emergency medical service flight.
About Kreindler & Kreindler
Kreindler is the preeminent aviation accident law firm in the world. Our attorneys have been appointed leading counsel in nearly every major commercial airline disaster case in the U.S. and abroad. Our aviation accident attorneys include veteran military pilots Justin Green (USMC), Brian Alexander (U.S. Army) and Dan Rose (U.S. Navy). Partner Brian Alexander served as a helicopter and fixed-wing pilot and flew medevac missions. Since 1950, our lawyers have fought diligently to achieve an unprecedented record of success in resolving plane and helicopter crash cases on behalf of our clients. Kreindler maintains offices in New York, Boston, and Los Angeles.
Photo of Pilatus PC-12 via Flickr by Tomás Del Coro