The widow of a prominent Tampa plastic surgeon who died in a plane crash last year is suing an Indiana city and its airport, claiming the crash was a direct result of an employee filling the plane with the wrong type of fuel.
Dr. Daniel Greenwald died Oct. 5 because an employee at the Kokomo Municipal Airport filled Greenwald’s Piper Aerostar 602P with jet fuel instead of aviation gas, according to the lawsuit filed by Julia Robbins Greenwald, who represents her husband’s estate.
The suit, filed April 13 in Howard County, Indiana, says employee John Yount was not properly trained for the job, a result of negligence on the part of the city and its airport, when he put the fuel known as “avgas” in the plane. Yount is also named as a defendant and was employed at the time as “a ramp attendant and/or fuel services attendant," according to the complaint.
A preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board released a week after the crash includes details about the fuel mix-up but did not list that as a cause. A determination on the cause will be included, if possible, in a final NTSB report that typically takes several months to complete.
The lawsuit contends the cause is clear.
“The use of Jet A fuel instead of avgas caused Dr. Greenwald’s plane to crash,” the six page complaint states.
An attorney representing all of the defendants did not immediately return an email and phone message Thursday.
Greenwald left Tampa’s Peter O. Knight airport in the Aerostar about 6:45 a.m. that day and arrived at Kokomo Municipal about 10:27 a.m., the NTSB report says. Greenwald went to Kokomo that day to train a pilot in a different model of Piper plane, a Cheyenne.
An employee at the Kokomo facility later told investigators that as Greenwald was approaching the airport in the Aerostar, the employee asked him if he wanted jet fuel, and Greenwald said “yes.” The employee, who is not named in the report, told investigators he asked because the Aerostar looked like a jet airplane, according to the report.
When Greenwald arrived, the employee parked the jet fuel truck in front of the Aerostar while Greenwald was still inside. The truck was marked with “JET A” on the left, right and rear sides.
“The employee said that he asked the pilot again if he wanted jet fuel, and the pilot said, ‘yes,’ ” the report says.
Jet fuel nozzles are shaped differently from nozzles for standard aviation fuel but the employee told investigators he was able to fill the Aerostar by positioning the nozzle at certain angles. The employee said he initially spilled about a gallon of fuel during refueling and “adjusted his technique so subsequent fuel spillage was minimal,” the report says.
Greenwald took off in the Piper about 4:20 p.m. A witness told investigators she saw the Piper flying low and make a sharp left turn. The left wing “dipped low” and the witness lost sight of the plane until she came upon the wreckage in a bean field about four miles from the airport.
An examination of the plane found a clear liquid consistent with jet fuel in the planes’ fuselage tank and in the fuel lines leading to both fuel manifolds. Several of the plane’s spark plugs showed damage “consistent with detonation," the report says.
“Dr. Greenwald was a highly experienced pilot and never instructed anyone to fuel this aircraft with jet fuel,” the lawsuit says.
In addition to his successful private medical practice, Bayshore Plastic Surgery, Greenwald had worked as an instructor for In Flight Review for at least 15 years, company founder and CEO Robert Losurdo told the Times in October.
Losurdo said Greenwald was training the Cheyenne pilot for another company but apparently also planned to conduct a training session with the Aerostar’s owner. Losurdo said he told Greenwald that he wouldn’t be able to do the training after all, because the owner had not submitted the required paperwork to In Flight, so Greenwald was apparently on his way back to Tampa at the time of the crash.