News 2 I-Team: Lawsuit filed in Moncks Corner plane wreck

Lawyers for the Johnson family tell News 2 the air traffic controller took “inappropriate action” and waited too long to alert the pilots of the potential for collision in the 2015 mid-flight wreck that killed a Moncks Corner father and son.

According to the attorney, once she gave the alert, it wasn't enough time for the experienced pilots to avoid each other.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday comes after nearly two years of the family trying to settle with the FAA.

Investigators with the NTSB found debris from the July 2015 wreck scattered across 1,200 feet in Berkeley County. While the pilot of the F-16 was able to eject safely from his jet, 68-year old Michael and his son,  30-year-old Joe Johnson died in the collision.

“The intent was to go Myrtle Beach, have lunch, and come back,” Jim Brauchle, the family’s attorney, told the News 2 I-Team.

That father-son outing was in early July 2015. Since then, Brauchle says the family has been trying to settle a wrongful death claim with the FAA.

Brauchle told News 2 the air traffic controller tracked both planes for at least three minutes, but she waited too long to alert the pilots of conflict. They were two miles apart when she initiated an alert to the F-16 pilot.  Based on the speed of the planes, that would have been about 20 seconds before a collision.  Once she gave the command, it wasn't clear to the F-16 pilot, Brauchle added.

Details of the investigation

The I-Team reviewed the NTSB report on the wreck.  That report stated an alarm sounded and should have alerted the controller of the conflict sooner.  The controller stated in her post-accident interview, she didn’t recall seeing or hearing it. It was three seconds after the alarm when she gave verbal commands to the air force pilot to turn.  She told the investigators she didn’t expect the pilot to “lollygag” in making the maneuver.

In interviews with the NTSB, the air force pilot said a two-mile call was the "…closest call I've ever received."  On radio transmissions, he confirmed he heard her correctly.

Seeking closure

Brauchle filed the wrongful death lawsuit Tuesday saying negotiations have broken down with the FAA, and it's the family's only option to resolve their case.

The resolution could still be a long way off. According to Brauchle, if the government accepts responsibility, it could still take a year to come to an agreement on an exact settlement.  If the government chooses to fight the lawsuit, it could take several years to resolved.

Michael, 68, leaves behind a wife and adult son.  Joe, 30, leaves behind a 10-year-old daughter.

A 21 second exchange

According to the lawsuit, this is the timeline of events leading up the deadly collision.

At 11:00:13, the controller’s radar system issued a visual and audible conflict alert alarm between the CESSNA and F-16.

At 11:00:16 the controller transmitted to the F-16 pilot he was within two miles of the other plane.

At 11:00:24 the F-16 pilot responded he was looking for the other plane.

At 11:00:26 the controller told the F-16 to turn.  The F-16 pilot responded, “confirm two miles?”

At 11:00:34, the controller transmitted “…If you don’t have that traffic in sight turn left heading one eight zero immediately.”

According to the NTSB report, the controller believed the planes missed each other until Johnson's plane stopped transmitting on her radar.

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