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Wife of Pilot Killed in Mid-Air Collision Near Brown Field Speaks Out For First Time

February 22, 2017 Aviation News

Posted on February 3, 2017 by Candice Nguyen

Kathi Copeland said when she met her husband Michael Copeland, the attraction was instant.

“Three weeks, he said ‘we’re going to get married’; three weeks in and I said, ‘you’re crazy’, but we did,” Copeland said describing how she and Michael met and fell in love.

They were married for more than 30 years. Kathi said Michael loved to fly.

“That was his passion,” she said.

August 16, 2015, is the day everything changed, Kathi said. That day a twin-engine Sabreliner and a single-engine Cessna 172 were destroyed when the planes collided near Brown Field Municipal Airport. Two pilots and two mission specialists on the Sabreliner and the pilot of the Cessna, Michael, died in the crash.

“It was a perfectly clear day when it all took place,” Glen Winn, an aviation instructor at The University of Southern California said.

According to a report from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) mistakes by a San Diego air traffic controller caused Michael’s Cessna 172 and the Sabreliner to collide mid-air near Brown Field.

Click here to learn more about the deadly crash.

After reading the NTSB report, Winn, who’s not connected to this investigation, said, “the person who was in the control room was overwhelmed quite frankly.”

According to the report, the Lead Controller working that day told investigators the maximum number of planes he could oversee is seven. That day he had nine and was working with a trainee.

Click here to learn more about the report.

The report says the controller took over radio communication from the trainee three minutes before the accident and when the controller did, the report said, he had incomplete situational awareness due to the high workload at the time of the accident.

A simulator used by the NTSB shows views from both aircrafts. According to the reenactment, the pilots saw clear skies, nothing wrong, until a moment before colliding. According to the report, in that three minutes before the collision, the controller misidentified one of the planes, giving instructions to the wrong Cessna.

“You think you’re safe when you’re in a plane,” Kathi said. “To find out there are mistakes that caused his death, it’s horrible.”

Air traffic controllers in Southern California oversee one of the busiest airspaces in the nation with active military, commercial and private aviation. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), on a typical day, more than 11,000 aircraft take to the skies.

“They’re highly trained individuals,” Winn said.

“It’s a very important job,” Kathi said.

As a result of NTSB’s investigation into the Brown Field accident, the agency is recommending there be more focus on the number of hours air traffic controllers are working, along with their workload. The agency is also suggesting this accident be part of training nationwide and is urging more technologies be used to alert pilots of approaching aircraft.

Kathi said she’s still figuring out her world without Michael and while helping to make sure the mistakes from that day don’t happen again. Kathi has also filed a lawsuit against Serco, the company who employed the air traffic controller. The case is scheduled to go to trial in August.

In a statement, a representative with Serco said, “Our hearts go out to the families affected in the tragic accident. We fully cooperated with NTSB during the investigation. In the 17 years that we have provided air traffic control services at Brown Field Municipal Airport we have always strived to maintain an outstanding standard of safety.”

Due to pending litigation, the company representative said they could not comment further.