The U.S. government has agreed to pay $6.8 million to the family of a Berkeley County father and son who, tragically, were killed July 7, 2015 after an Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon jet crashed into their single-engine Cessna 150C moments after takeoff from the Berkeley County Airport.
The settlement resolves a wrongful death suit filed last year in U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, Charleston Division. Motley Rice represents the victims’ families in the litigation.
The government acknowledged early on in the litigation that the “acts and omissions of its employees” caused the collision. Before agreeing to pay $6.8 million, it had contested the “existence, type and quantum of damages”. Surviving family members of 30-year-old Joseph Johnson will receive $3.5 million, with the remaining $3.3 million going to the relatives of his father, 68-year-old Michael Johnson. U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel approved the settlement May 18, referring to the dollar figure as being “very fair and just,” according to news reports.
“No amount of money can fill the void or ease the pain caused by the sudden loss of a father and son,” said Motley Rice aviation attorney for the family James Brauchle. "By acknowledging and taking responsibility for what went wrong, the government can now take the necessary steps to prevent this from ever happening to another family.”
A National Transportation Safety Board investigation into the collision found that the Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon jet crashed into the single-engine Cessna piloted by Joseph Johnson above the rice fields and residential property near Lewisfield Plantation in Moncks Corner, 25 miles north of Charleston, S.C. The jet’s pilot, Maj. Aaron Johnson, a member of the 55th Fighter Squadron with the Air Force’s 20th Fighter Wing at Shaw Air Force Base, managed to eject to safety and was hospitalized after the collision. The father and son, however, died at the scene.
An air traffic controller had been in communication with the jet’s pilot and alerted him of the Cessna’s nearby presence seconds before the collision, the NTSB investigation revealed. Plaintiffs alleged in the litigation that the air traffic controller on duty failed to alert the jet’s pilot of the Cessna’s presence and impending danger in enough time to avert a collision.
Read the complaint.