The New York Daily News among other media sources has reported a tragic incident over New Years where a teenage student pilot and his two teen passengers were killed on what is being described as a “joyride” in a Piper Twin Comanche by officials. Seventeen year old high school student Jordan Smith fell in love with flying at an early age and started going to a nearby airport at age 14 for flights with friends. He had even won a scholarship to Wallace State Community College to study aviation and was one test short of earning a private pilot license.
However and around New Year’s Eve, James crashed a Piper PA 30 in a wooded, swampy area roughly a mile from the Walker County Airport in Jasper, northwest of Birmingham – killing himself and two teenage friends. The owner of a nearby farm stated that she often saw training flights from the airport circle her farm and she guessed that Jordan was flying the same pattern before he crashed.
Jordan’s mother said that the owner of the Piper PA 30 had given her son his own key and the code to a security gate behind which his airplane was parked, but a local sheriff says he believes the teens basically stole the aircraft and took a joyride in it. The airport manager has stated that the aircraft left the airport at around 10:30 PM in overcast skies and a low cloud ceiling. He was also quoted as saying:
“It was a student pilot flying an airplane without permission, an airplane that he was not qualified to fly at night.”
There were a couple of interesting comments posted on the New York Daily News’ article that are worth noting, including:
mryan75: There is no such thing as “one test short of a pilot’s license.” You either have one or you don’t, and this kid obviously did not. By that logic, I’m one medical degree short of being a doctor.
Denton14: I highly doubt that the invite to use the plane was meant for a last night flight with friends. I’d like to know if they had been drinking, and, or, using drugs before this took place.
RochesterSabre: just curious, what does the FAA say about owners giving keys up to folks that they KNOW don’t have a license?
And knowing the States, no doubt everyone involved or touched by the tragedy (e.g. the airport, the owner of the aircraft and the families of the victims) wants to avoid costly lawsuits (the National Transportation Safety Board has not commented yet pending an investigation), but I do have to wonder whether any insurance on the aircraft will be paid out given the circumstances and where blame will be placed should lawyers start getting involved. Certainly there are lessons from the tragedy – especially if you have a teen who is already flying or you allow other pilots to use your aircraft.