Flight academy, instructor sued over fatal 2017 plane crash

Published 02-15-2019

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - The sister of a student pilot who died in a small plane crash in Connecticut in 2017 has filed a wrongful death lawsuit accusing the instructor of failing to prevent the crash and the flight school of failing to maintain the plane.

It's the second such lawsuit against the now-defunct American Flight Academy in connection with two fatal plane crashes in a five-month span in late 2016 and early 2017. Students died in both crashes, while the instructors survived.

Marie Matta-Isona, the administrator of her brother's estate, filed the latest lawsuit Monday in New Haven Superior Court, seeking an undisclosed amount of money.

Her brother, Pablo Campos-Isona, 31, died after a Piper PA38 crashed in East Haven while he and instructor Rafayel Hany Wassef, of New London, were practicing touch-and-go landings near Tweed New Haven Airport on Feb. 22, 2017.

The National Transportation Safety Board concluded there was a fuel selector valve failure that likely caused the engine to stall. Officials also said Wassef contributed to the crash by allowing the plane to exceed the "critical angle of attack" during an emergency return to the airport.

The lawsuit alleges American Flight Academy and its owner, Arian Prevalla, failed to properly maintain the plane and inspect the fuel selector valve. A lawyer for the academy and Prevalla, Kevin Dehghani, declined to comment Friday.

The lawsuit also blames Wassef, who suffered multiple broken bones.

"Wassef failed to assume the controls of the aircraft ... at an earlier time and in an effective manner, when he should have, and could have done so if he had exercised proper judgment for a prudent flight instructor with his training, experience and background," the lawsuit says.

A message seeking comment was left for Wassef, 22. It's not clear whether he has a lawyer who could respond to the allegations.

American Flight Academy also made news in October 2016 when one of its planes, a twin-engine Piper PA-34 Seneca, crashed on Main Street in East Hartford near jet engine-maker Pratt & Whitney - sparking early but unfounded concerns about possible terrorism. The wreck killed student Feras Freitekh, of the country of Jordan. Prevalla, the academy's owner, was the instructor and survived.

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The lawsuit also blames Wassef, who suffered multiple broken bones.

"Wassef failed to assume the controls of the aircraft ... at an earlier time and in an effective manner, when he should have, and could have done so if he had exercised proper judgment for a prudent flight instructor with his training, experience and background," the lawsuit says.

A message seeking comment was left for Wassef, 22. It's not clear whether he has a lawyer who could respond to the allegations.

American Flight Academy also made news in October 2016 when one of its planes, a twin-engine Piper PA-34 Seneca, crashed on Main Street in East Hartford near jet engine-maker Pratt & Whitney - sparking early but unfounded concerns about possible terrorism. The wreck killed student Feras Freitekh, of the country of Jordan. Prevalla, the academy's owner, was the instructor and survived.

Prevalla told investigators Freitekh was a disgruntled student who crashed the plane on purpose as they argued during the flight. Freitekh's family and friends have said they don't believe that story.

Federal agents have been investigating that crash and seized records from the academy's office at Hartford-Brainard Airport. No findings have been released.

Freitekh's father also filed a wrongful death lawsuit, which remains pending, against the academy. The lawsuit also alleges that the plane was not properly maintained and that Prevalla failed to prevent the crash by not assuming control of the aircraft earlier during the flight. The academy has denied wrongdoing.

Three former students of the academy also are suing the school , saying they spent thousands of dollars for commercial pilot training and were left in the lurch when the academy closed following the two fatal plane

A message seeking comment was left for Wassef, 22. It's not clear whether he has a lawyer who could respond to the allegations.

American Flight Academy also made news in October 2016 when one of its planes, a twin-engine Piper PA-34 Seneca, crashed on Main Street in East Hartford near jet engine-maker Pratt & Whitney - sparking early but unfounded concerns about possible terrorism. The wreck killed student Feras Freitekh, of the country of Jordan. Prevalla, the academy's owner, was the instructor and survived.

Prevalla told investigators Freitekh was a disgruntled student who crashed the plane on purpose as they argued during the flight. Freitekh's family and friends have said they don't believe that story.

Federal agents have been investigating that crash and seized records from the academy's office at Hartford-Brainard Airport. No findings have been released.

Freitekh's father also filed a wrongful death lawsuit, which remains pending, against the academy. The lawsuit also alleges that the plane was not properly maintained and that Prevalla failed to prevent the crash by not assuming control of the aircraft earlier during the flight. The academy has denied wrongdoing.

Three former students of the academy also are suing the school , saying they spent thousands of dollars for commercial pilot training and were left in the lurch when the academy closed following the two fatal plane crashes. Dehghani, the academy's lawyer, has said the school denies the students' allegations.

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