Late Film Pilot’s Family|Seeks ‘Tens of Millions’

LOS ANGELES (CN) — The family of a pilot killed in a plane crash making the Tom Cruise thriller “American Made” in the mountains of Colombia sued several Hollywood production companies this week.
     The brother and three adult children of the late Carlos Berl say he was unfamiliar with the plane the film’s producers hurriedly asked him to fly through a rugged stretch of the Andes after jungle filming concluded a year ago.
     Berl died on Sept. 11, 2015, when the two-engine Cessna crashed on descent into the airport in Medellin. Another pilot also died in the accident, and a third was seriously injured.
     “Prior to travelling to South America, Carlos Berl repeatedly informed the defendants that he had insufficient flight experience in the subject aircraft and required flight instruction and familiarization with the aircraft before he could safely pilot it,” his family says in the Wednesday lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court.
     The family of the other pilot who died, Alan Purwin, sued the production companies and Berl’s estate in April, blaming Berl for the crash, saying he “lacked the necessary qualifications, skills, [and] competence” to make the flight.
     “American Made” stars Cruise as the late Barry Seal, a former airline pilot and convicted drug smuggler who agreed to work for the DEA and CIA in the 1980s in a plan to capture Pablo Escobar, the boss of the Medellin cocaine cartel. Seal was murdered in 1986, allegedly by cartel hitmen.
     The Berl family sued Cross Creek Pictures, Imagine Entertainment, Quadrant Pictures, Vendian Entertainment and Mena Productions, among others. “Mena” was the working title of the film. The Berls also sued two aircraft companies and their owners, and Purwin’s estate, through his widow.
     Purwin was a prominent helicopter and airplane pilot for films. The Berls say he was hired as a pilot and aerial photographer for “American Made” and he invited Carlos Berl to Colombia to ferry the Cessna back to the states after filming.
     On the day of the crash, the defendants “were rushing to get back to Medellin,” and on to the United States “due to delays in filming,” the lawsuit states. “This action compromised safety because the movie was behind schedule and permitted unsafe and rushed flight operations to save money.”
     Jimmy Lee Garland, the pilot who was injured but survived, is also named as a defendant.
     The Cessna was a Ted Smith/Piper Aerostar 600, “a 40-year-old plane” with a two-pilot cockpit, according to Jeff Korek, one of the Berls’ attorneys. Berl was a seasoned pilot, but did not have any experience with aircraft that old, said Korek, who is with Gersowitz Libo & Korek, in New York City.
     Garland was “the pilot in command” on the doomed flight, according to the lawsuit, and Berl was “a student pilot.”
     The Purwin lawsuit says that Berl was the pilot.
     Berl had expected to be trained in the Cessna before he had to fly it back to the U.S. Instead, he got “a rushed and unprepared instructional and familiarization flight … over the rugged terrain of the Andes Mountains” that ended in death, his family says.
     The flight from the small starting airport into Medellin takes about 10 minutes. An Associated Press story quoted an expert who described it as a “bungee jump” because the plane must travel from near sea level up 9,800 feet over the Andes and then descend quickly into the steep valley surrounding Medellin.
     The defendants “knew that the subject aircraft would be flown over rugged, mountainous terrain in the Republic of Colombia, and yet failed to ensure that the airplane was properly equipped and that the flight was safely planned, prepared and supervised,” the Berls say.
     Co-counsel for the Berls, with Korek, include Daniel Hodes of Hodes, Milman & Liebeck in Irvine, and Justin Green of the well-known aviation law firm Kreindler & Kreindler in New York.
     The attorneys said in a statement that the plane crash “upended the lives of Carlos Berl’s three children who were just starting to make their way into the world. The Berl family is left to wonder why ‘American Made’s’ production schedule was allowed to take priority over the safety of its crew.”
     In August, the film’s release date was pushed back from January to September 2017.
     The Berls seek damages for wrongful death and survival claims. It does not specify an amount, but Hodes estimated they would seek “tens of millions.”

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