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July 14, 2017

U.S. government admits liability in Moncks Corner mid-air collision

The U.S. government has admitted that the “acts and omissions of its employees” caused the mid-air collision that resulted in the tragic deaths of a father and son minutes after they departed the Berkeley County Airport July 7, 2015. The admission was included in an answer July 13, 2017 to a wrongful death suit filed earlier this year by the victims’ family, which is represented by Motley Rice.  

While the government is not arguing liability in the case, it does contest compensation for the loss.

“The United States admits that its employees’ acts and omissions proximately caused the subject accident and resulted in the deaths of Michael and Joseph Johnson,” the answer stated. “Accordingly, the United States does not contest its liability for their deaths in this case but does contest the existence, type and quantum of damages available to Plaintiffs.”

A National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that an Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon jet crashed into a single-engine Cessna 150C piloted by 30-year-old Joseph Johnson. The crash took place above the rice fields and residential property near Lewisfield Plantation 25 miles north of Charleston, South Carolina, in Moncks Corner. Joseph Johnson and his 68-year-old father both died at the scene.

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. 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.

“The U.S. government’s admission of liability confirmed what we knew to be true – that Joe Johnson, pilot of the Cessna, did not do anything to cause this tragedy and that Michael and Joseph would still be alive today had the air traffic controller on duty acted appropriately and communicated the impending danger in enough time for the jet’s pilot to successfully avert a collision,” said Motley Rice aviation attorney Jim Brauchle, a former U.S. Air Force navigator. “There’s no question that compensation for the family’s loss is warranted. We will not stop seeking justice.”  

A damages hearing will be held before U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel. Under South Carolina law, wrongful death damages include both economic and non-economic losses.

Read the full complaint.

Read the U.S. government’s answer.