South Carolina Widow of beach jogger killed by plane files suit Suit names pilot and manufacturer of kit-built single-engine plane

By Meg Kinnard

Associated Press Writer

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- The widow of a Georgia jogger killed when a plane hit him during an emergency landing on a South Carolina beach has sued the plane's manufacturers and owner for wrongful death and negligence, according to court documents filed recently.

Robert Gary Jones, 38, was killed March 15 when a kit-built single-engine plane hit him on the beach at Hilton Head Island. Jones, a Woodstock, Ga., native in South Carolina on a business trip for GlaxoSmithKline, had been listening to his iPod and likely didn't hear the plane's quiet approach from behind, authorities said.

Teledyne Continental Motors Inc., Hartzell Propeller Inc., Lancair International Inc., Penn Yao Aero Service Inc., and the plane's owner, 62-year-old Edward Smith of Chesapeake, Va., didn't properly test, design or manufacture the plane or its parts, an attorney for Jennifer Dawn Jones wrote in court documents filed in federal court in South Carolina last week. The 28-page filing also accuses the companies of knowing about potential defects and failing to represent them.

"Defendants were aware of incidents and occurrences in the past of failures of similar aircrafts and their engines, crankshafts, propellers, components and parts, which caused catastrophic failure and did result in serious personal injury or death," said the lawsuit, which did not provide specific examples. "Had Defendants used minimal skills, exercised minimal effort, or considered seriously the high degree or risk of catastrophic failure ... they would not have recklessly, willfully or maliciously disregarded the serious risk of failure."

Authorities said Smith's plane, which took off from Orlando, Fla., and was en route to Virginia when it lost its propeller and started leaking oil, which smeared on the windshield and obstructed Smith's view. Investigators said Smith reported the propeller problem to air traffic control at Hilton Head and maneuvered the airplane to make an emergency landing on the beach.

According to a National Transportation Safety Board report issued earlier this year, Smith told investigators he heard a loud bang before the engine failed and he was forced to make the emergency landing.

Court documents did not list an attorney for Smith, and a message left at his house was not immediately returned. After the crash, Smith told a reporter watching as his plane was hoisted onto a trailer, "I've got a lot of issues going on right now. ... I've got a plane that's all torn up. And I've got a young man that I killed."

The lawsuit, which asks for unspecified damages, says Jones and her children "have suffered great losses including ... mental shock and suffering, wounded feelings, grief and sorrow."

Teledyne designed, manufactured and serviced the engine, according to the lawsuit. Hartzell Propeller made the propeller, and Penn Yan Aero Service was tasked with inspecting and servicing the engine.

A message left with a spokeswoman for Teledyne Continental Motors was not immediately returned.

A spokesman for Hartzell Propeller said the company generally doesn't comment on litigation and would not comment until a final report on the crash is prepared by the National Transportation Safety Board.

And a spokesman for Lancair said that company only made the kit containing the plane's structural pieces, not the engine or propeller that might have malfunctioned.

"The way the airplane performs is based on its aerodynamic ability, and that part worked quite well," Doug Meyer said.

A spokesman for Penn Yan Aero Service said he had not seen the lawsuit and could not immediately comment.

Published: Fri, Oct 8, 2010