By Scott Sonner
RENO — The family of a Nevada man killed in a small plane crash in 2016 is seeking more than $6.5 million in damages from the Federal Aviation Administration in a lawsuit accusing air traffic controllers of negligence during his attempted landing at Reno-Tahoe International Airport.
The widow and two children of John Brown filed the lawsuit against the U.S. government this week in federal court in Reno.
FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said Friday the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
The National Transportation Safety Board said in a report in July that miscommunication between Brown and the control tower likely contributed to the single-engine Beechcraft A-36 Bonanza crashing in a recreational vehicle park in Sparks about one-half mile (0.8 kilometer) from the airport runway on Aug. 30, 2016.
A passenger, 50-year-old James Elliker, also died in the crash of the plane that took off from Henderson Executive Airport outside Las Vegas about 4 p.m. that day.
The lawsuit said the Reno control tower failed to inform Brown — an experienced pilot and professional flight instructor who was 73 years old — that he was cleared for landing behind two Boeing 757s that were on their approach to the airport.
Brown thought there was only one 757, the lawsuit said. Based on instructions from the tower, he was under the impression he was second in line to land and nearly hit the trailing jetliner before his plane “rolled inverted, descended and collided with the ground in a near-vertical decent,” the suit said.
“As a result of the Reno Tower’s failures to properly sequence and space these aircraft” a FedEx plane passed Brown’s plane “dangerously close … while both aircraft were attempting to land on parallel runways, only 700 feet apart, almost simultaneously,” the lawsuit said.
According to the NTSB report, the pilot was unable to recover from a low-altitude encounter with wake vortices caused by nearby aircraft. Wake vortices occur from differences in air pressure above and below the wings of an aircraft.
The NTSB report also cited the pilot’s judgment, alertness and fatigue as factors in the crash.
Brown’s widow, Janet Brown, is seeking at least $3.5 million for damages including her grief, sorrow, loss of probably support and companionship. His daughter, Laura Melendez, and son, John Bradly Brown, are seeking at least $1.5 million each.
The lawsuit says Browns’ family filed administrative claims for compensation with the FAA in February 2018, but the agency didn’t respond within the required six-month deadline so they now have the authority to seek damages under the Federal Tort Claims Act.