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NEFF v. UNITED STATES

March 28, 1968

Joan S. NEFF, Administratrix of the Estate of John W. Neff, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES of America, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GESELL

 GESELL, District Judge.

 The Rochester Airport control tower was about 40 feet above the ground and had a clear unobstructed view to the east, north and west. Situated on the southern portion of the field, it looked across the field to the north, where the terminal was located. The airport weather station facilities were located at ground level in a building close to the tower and were connected to the tower by an instant "hot line" which made immediate communication either way possible.

 The main runway, No. 28, runs approximately east and west halfway between the tower and the terminal. Landings and takeoffs are normally from the eastern end of the runway and such was the case on the afternoon of the accident.

 SEQUENCE OF EVENTS

 The sequence of events and principal weather developments which occurred on July 2, 1963, preceding the accident, and the general background against which the issues of negligence alleged by both parties must be determined are set forth immediately below.

 3:13 p.m. Captain Dennis and First Officer Neff took over the Martin 404, a twin-engine piston-type aircraft, at Ithaca and left for Rochester. There was a line of "quite intense" thunderstorms having the appearance of a "squall line" running NE to SW about 75 miles from Ithaca toward Rochester. Captain Dennis and First Officer Neff were aware of this condition.

 3:40 p.m. The plane arrived at Rochester from Ithaca. There was a little more than a one-hour layover at this point before Mohawk flight 112 using the same plane and the same crew was scheduled to originate and depart Rochester at 4:45 p.m. for White Plains, New York, and, ultimately, Newark, New Jersey.

 3:50 p.m. The crew went to the Operations Office in the terminal and spent some time reviewing the weather and flight information available.

 Mohawk's customer service agent at Rochester spoke to Captain Dennis and First Officer Neff and mentioned an aviation severe weather forecast. All current weather, including a 4:00 p.m. hourly weather report set out below, came to the attention of the crew. Captain Dennis did not seek any additional weather data, relying on what was made available. The following weather reports were posted and known to the crew:

 
U.S. Weather Bureau
 
Amended Terminal Forecast #1, circuit 8022, July 2, 1963 2:45 PM EDT
 
Valid from 2:45 PM EDT Tuesday to 7:00 PM EDT Wednesday.
 
Rochester - ceiling 4,000 feet broken clouds, visibility 7 miles, wind westsouthwest 16 knots, scattered thunderstorms. Possible briefly ceilings 500 feet sky obscured 1/2 mile visibility, heavy thunderstorms, hail, wind from the west at 40 knots with gusts to 65 knots. Chance isolated tornado. 7:00 PM EDT cold front passage. 25,000 feet thin scattered clouds. Winds northwest 10 knots. Occasionally 4,000 feet scattered clouds until 9:00 PM EDT
 
All Mohawk Stations
 
Post for Pilots and pass to any flights into areas mentioned.
 
Weather Bureau severe weather forecast indicates along and 60 miles either side from 60 miles southeast of Buffalo, N.Y., to 50 miles northeast of Burlington, Vt., expect scattered severe thunderstorms with extreme turbulence, hail to 1 1/2 inches in diameter and maximum surface gusts 65 knots. Possibly an isolated tornado or two. Squall line forming in Ontario, Canada, to vicinity of Buffalo and Youngstown, Ohio expected to intensify and move east south eastward at 40 knots. Company pilot reports indicate a line of thunderstorms through western Pennsylvania from north of Johnstown, Pa. extending southeastward and building rapidly. Expect these thundershowers to move eastward.
 
(McIntyre, Flight Control, July 2, 1963, 2:53 PM EDT)
 
Aviation Severe Weather Forecast
 
Weather warning Kansas City Urgent Kansas City Forecast number 315 July 2, 3:15 PM. EDT
 
Aviation Severe Weather Forecast
 
Area one [evidence showed Rochester is in Area one] - Tornado forecast
 
A - Along and 60 miles either side of a line from 60 miles southeast of Buffalo, N.Y. to 50 miles northeast of Burlington, Vt. Valid from 4:00 PM. EDT to 10:00 PM EDT. Public forecast issued.
 
B - Scattered severe thunderstorms with extreme turbulence. Hail to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Maximum surface gusts 65 knots. Possibility of an isolated tornado or two. Few cumulus buildups maximum tops 6000 feet.
 
C - Squall line forming in Ontario, Canada to vicinity of Buffalo and Youngstown, Ohio. Expected to intensify and move east-southeastward at 40 knots.
 
Hourly Sequence Reports
 
Areas Sequences circuit 8022 July 2, 1963 4:00 PM EDT
 
Rochester - ceiling estimated 5,000 feet broken clouds, higher broken clouds 12,000 feet visibility eight miles 1007.6 millibars of pressure. Temperature 94 degrees F, dew point 66, wind west-southwest 16 knots. Altimeter setting 29.76 inches of mercury.

 4:30 p.m. Captain Dennis signed the flight plan for flight 112. The flight plan is not in evidence.

 4:40 p.m. Thunder was officially heard at the airport weather station causing Chapman, who was then on duty, to make a special weather observation, set forth immediately below. This may be considered the official beginning of the thunderstorm near the field.

 About this time the crew and passengers boarded the aircraft. When flight 112 was being loaded it is not clear to what extent thunder and lightning were noticed at that point on the field. Some passengers and the stewardess heard thunder and saw lightning. All agree that the sky was dark and getting darker. While the wind was generally mild, there were strong gusts from time to time.

 Another Mohawk plane coming from Buffalo which had landed at Rochester on runway No. 28 at 4:38 p.m. taxied to a gate near flight 112. The pilot of the incoming flight saw a thunderstorm somewhere to the west that looked like any other storm. He saw no rain or lightning coming in.

 4:43 p.m. The first engine of flight 112 was started. Chapman at the weather station of the airport, having heard thunder and seen lightning, made the following special ...


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