20-year-old resident of St. Charles, Ill., and Otai, a 23-year-old from Kenya, were killed when the Cessna crashed in Allegan County’s Manlius Township after it left Tulip City Air, which is now West Michigan Regional Airport.



Plane crash that killed two Hope College students subject of lawsuit blaming FAA


The father of one of the Hope College students killed in a Jan. 17, 2010 plane crash filed a lawsuit Monday, Nov. 5, against the federal government.

Peter Biagioni, the father of Emma Biagioni, a passenger in the flight piloted by David Otai, has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids.

His daughter, a 20-year-old resident of St. Charles, Ill., and Otai, a 23-year-old from Kenya, were killed when the Cessna crashed in Allegan County’s Manlius Township after it left Tulip City Air, which is now West Michigan Regional Airport.

The crash occurred in heavy fog.

Peter Biagioni blamed air-traffic controllers in Muskegon for failing to help Otai when he radioed that he was having trouble.

The lawsuit says Otai called for assistance within 15 minutes of take-off. His first call went unanswered because the controller was tied up with another duty, but seconds later, the controller responded.

Otai told her he was “’caught in some fog and and would like vectors [radar directions] to the runway eight at Tulip City [airport],’” attorney Mark Schwartz wrote in the lawsuit.

The Muskegon Approach controller later said she did not understand or hear what the pilot said, and didn’t ask him to repeat his call, according to the suit. The controller could have used radar equipment to identify the location and altitude of the airplane, Schwartz wrote.

The controller then advised the pilot to contact the flight service station on a certain radio frequency. Then, after the pilot switched frequencies, she realized she'd provided the wrong frequency, the lawsuit said.

A second controller provided a frequency which was also wrong, the lawsuit said.
The pilot then called Muskegon Approach again, and said he could not reach anyone.
After several minutes, the pilot was asked, “’Uh, but you’re wanting to just file a flight plan?’” Schwartz wrote.

The pilot then “reiterated what he told Defendant’s air traffic controller on his first call-up transmission - that he was caught in fog and wanted radar vectors to Tulip City Airport.”

The pilot, when asked if he was flying under visual flight rules, said yes, but he was in an emergency.

Moments later, the plane crashed into a farm field four miles south of the Holland.

“At all relevant times herein, in violation of numerous FAA duties, as that term is defined herein, Defendant’s air traffic controllers did not provide Cessna N8405E with the required normal and emergency assistance commencing from the point in command’s first radio call to the point at which Cessna N8405E impacted the terrain, killing all aboard,” Schwartz wrote.

He said that if with proper response by the controller, the pilot could have been identified by radar and climbed then be directed to an area or airport where visibility was better.

A Tulip City front office worker, who watched the plane take off into an overcast sky, was “very concerned” that Otai left without filing an instrument flight plan or receiving instrument clearance, a National Transportation Safety Board report said.

Otai was a sophomore at Hope College. He planned to fly missionary planes in Africa. Biagioni, a junior, was a political science major.

Otai had rented the plane to give rides to his friends.


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