PHILADELPHIA (CN) - A US Airways plane crashed and caught fire after its captain cleared it for takeoff despite the loss of crucial flight data, two passengers claim in court.
Lisette Vazquez Berthiaume and Nancy Alarcon-Maxwell say they were forced to evacuate the smoke-filled aircraft through its emergency escape slide when it suddenly plummeted to the ground just seconds after takeoff on March 13, 2014. The plane allegedly bounced off the Philadelphia International Airport runway three times, eventually landing in a nearby field.
According to a lawsuit filed in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, the crash occurred because flight captain John Davis Powell, Jr. made the "unprecedented" decision to reject the takeoff once the plane was already airborne.
The captain's choice to reverse course was his second risky call of the takeoff process, the lawsuit says. He also allegedly violated both federal regulations and airline rules by taking off in the first place after realizing that critical takeoff data had been wiped out of the plane's computer system.
The data error occurred because the pilot's first officer inadvertently entered the wrong airport runway number as a departure point, "leaving the aircraft not properly configured for takeoff," according to the lawsuit.
"What did you do? You didn't load. We lost everything," the captain allegedly said to his first officer before deciding to proceed with takeoff despite the missing data.
Although the plane had already begun to accelerate when the pilots realized something was awry, Berthiaume and Alarcon-Maxwell say the captain had plenty of time to halt the flight before it lifted off, but instead ignored the protocol the airline had in place for that very situation.
"Instead of rejecting the takeoff using US Airways high speed takeoff rejection regime...in violation of US Airways procedures and federal law, the captain decided to proceed with the takeoff," the Jan. 7 complaint states.
"We'll get that straight when we get airborne," Powell allegedly told first officer Lynda Walker Fleming about the missing data.
Their workspace was allegedly abuzz with "nonessential" chatter at the time the errors were made, with numerous flight crew members making "loud, frequent and distracting" conversation in the cockpit of the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-bound plane.
Berthiaume and Alarcon-Maxwell claim US Airways and its pilots are liable for operating the plane "in a manner so as to endanger the life and property of another," and for violating multiple Federal Aviation Association regulations in the process.
Berthiaume says it took two back surgeries to treat her injuries, while Alarcon-Maxwell claims lingering effects from a closed head trauma.
A US Airways media relations representative declined to comment on the allegations, saying in a Monday evening phone call that the company preferred to review the pending litigation first.
American Airlines Inc., which was acquired by US Airways in an October 2015 merger, is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
In addition to the two passengers, Berthiaume's husband is also included as a plaintiff. The trio is represented by Cynthia Devers of the Philadelphia-based Wolk Law Firm.
The plaintiffs seek at least $50,000 in compensatory and punitive damages for the airline's alleged "willful, wanton and outrageous" conduct and negligent infliction of emotional distress, including "fear of impending death by fire, explosion and serious bodily injury."