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June 06 2007 - Lawsuit intended to clear son´s name

The father of Rome, Georgia pilot Gary Tillman, who died with his daughter and her friend in a 2005 plane crash, said the family is suing the Federal Aviation Administration in an effort to clear his son’s name.

Air-traffic controllers at a Florida airport should have guided Gary Tillman’s Cessna directly to a beach before the December 2005 crash in the ocean, according to a lawsuit filed May 17 in U.S. District Court in Jacksonville, Fla.

In the suit, Denise Tillman claims air-traffic controllers at Craig Airport in Jacksonville directed her husband to fly over the ocean toward the airport in St. Augustine shortly before the crash.

Tillman had requested permission from the controllers to land on a nearby beach after the plane’s engine began to fail, the suit claims.

Tillman, his daughter, Hannah, and one of her friends, Anna Kipp, died after the plane went down into the ocean near St. Augustine.

“We are concerned that Gary’s name is protected, and that he did what was right and proper,” Earl Tillman, said Wednesday. “He was a trained pilot.”

Denise Tillman seeks more than $75,000 in damages in the wrongful death suit against the FAA. Efforts to reach her failed Wednesday.

Repeated efforts by the Rome News-Tribune to reach Jacksonville attorney Woody Wilner, one of the lawyers for the family, were unsuccessful.

A spokesperson with the FAA, which manages U.S. air traffic, said the agency does not comment on litigation.

Tillman took off from the Jacksonville airport in December 2005 for the Bahamas.

His Cessna 195 single engine airplane began to lose power as he neared St. Augustine.

Tillman reported the problem to air-traffic controllers and asked to land on a beach to the right of the plane.

The lawsuit claims he could have glided the aircraft to the beach with the power off.

Tillman could not see outside of the cockpit “due to poor visibility” and relied on the plane’s instruments and the controllers’ instructions for navigation, the lawsuit states.

Controllers directed Tillman to fly south to St. Augustine Airport. They were able to monitor Tillman’s flight by radar and knew the single-engine plane would not reach the airport, the lawsuit alleges.

“The FAA’s directions were not reasonably calculated to lead (Tillman’s plane) to safety,” the lawsuit states. “As a result, the aircraft crashed about one mile from the beach.”

The family also claims the FAA failed to notify the U.S. Coast Guard immediately after learning Tillman’s plane could not maintain altitude. According to the suit, the agency’s negligence caused Tillman and his daughter to drown.
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