1. Business

Family of pilot killed in 2014 banner plane crash near Albert Whitted files lawsuit

ST. PETERSBURG — The family of a commercial pilot who was killed in a 2014 plane crash while taking off from Albert Whitted Airport is suing the company that hired him as well as the air-traffic control company that gave him clearance to take off.

The lawsuit, filed in Pinellas Circuit Court, alleges that Donald Thomasson died as a direct result of a "dangerous pick and go" maneuver that is commonplace for the company, Advertising Air Force Inc., which hired him.

Also named as defendants are Ariel Banners, which does business with Advertising Air Force; the man who trained Thomasson on behalf of Advertising Air Force; and Orlando-based Robinson Aviation Inc., the flight controller that cleared Thomasson to take off.

The suit states that the Federal Aviation Administration found the crash occurred as a direct result of the "pick and go" maneuver.

A "pick and go" maneuver involves the pilot using a grappling hook to catch the end of a banner advertisement, which then trails behind the plane.

On Aug. 31, 2014, Thomasson's Piper PA-23 splashed into the water about 75 yards south of the airport's seawall as the plane lifted off. Thomasson was 68 and had four children.

The company's planes have been involved in at least five crashes involving banner towing in which the planes took off from Albert Whitted since 1989. Thomasson was the first fatality.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs could not be reached for comment, nor could the defendants.

Contact Alli Knothe at Follow @KnotheA.