WEST PALM BEACH (CN) - Parents say their son died in a plane crash because his aviation school ignored glaring signs that its plane was unfit to fly. In the week before the crash the plane twice exhibited serious engine problems, they say; federal records show the school's planes were involved in three fatal crashes in 2 years.
The parents say their son Arjun Chhikara, 18, took flying lessons with now-defunct Kemper Aviation during the fall of 2007. He had moved to South Florida from New Delhi and hoped to stay in America with his girlfriend.
But his plans were cut short. During a routine flight on Oct. 27, Chhikara and his instructor, Anders Selberg, radioed air traffic control about a malfunction in the Piper aircraft's engine. Moments later, the engine lost power, and the plane began losing altitude, National Transportation Safety Board records show.
Selberg tried to land on a golf course near Boynton Beach but the plane smashed into a fairway. The sole survivor, fellow flight student Chandrashekar Godgate, crawled out of the wreckage and onto a green. Chhikara and Selberg died in the crash.
In their wrongful death complaint in Palm Beach County Court, the Chhikaras say that a week before the fatal crash, a pilot flying the same plane was forced to make an emergency landing at Lantana Airport when the plane's frame shook violently in flight.
The owners of Kemper Aviation, Jeffrey Rozelle and Akshay Mohan, continued to use the Piper PA-28-181 despite its engine problems, the Chhikaras say.
A few days later, another pilot tried to take off in the Piper when "he observed that the engine was vibrating excessively, causing the craft to lose power," according to the complaint.
Still, neither Rozelle nor Mohan decommissioned the plane for repairs, the Chhikaras say.
The parents sued Kemper Aviation and Day Trippin' Airlines, which leased the plane. Engine parts manufacturers Volare Carburetors and Lycoming Engines are also named as defendants.
The Chhikaras' attorney, Stephen Marks, said in an interview that the family was close to a settlement with Mohan, but that because Mohan refused to allow destructive testing to be performed on the battered plane's parts, the agreement fell through. The tests could have helped determined the cause of the engine malfunction, Marks said.
"Had we been permitted to perform destructive testing, the suit might not have been necessary," Marks said.
Nine months after the Chhikara crash, Rozelle died when his plane plummeted into a field during a bird population survey, an FAA representative said.
According to the NTSB database, Rozelle's death was the eighth fatality in Kemper Aviation's three crashes in 2007 and 2008. Mohan voluntarily surrendered his aviatic operating certificate the day Rozelle died, FAA records show.