A charter school in New Mexico has reached a settlement with the families of three students who were killed in a plane crash in 2014 while working as ecological monitoring interns in the Gila National Forest.
The 14-year-old Ella Kirk, 16-year-old Michael Mahl, and 16-year-old Ella Myers were students at the Aldo Leopold Charter School (ALCS) in Silver City, NM. The pilot of the single engine plane, Peter Hochla, was also killed in the crash. His estate is named in the suit.
The high performance plane was attempting a landing in bad weather when Hochla overshot the runway and tried to avoid a collision by getting the plane back into the air, but it stalled out due to slow speed and crashed, killing all four passengers.
An investigation into the accident determined that Hochla was not qualified to safely pilot the advanced aircraft. Commercial pilot Don Lewis, who conducted an independent review of the incident, stated that “regardless of the weather conditions, the level of skill and judgment exhibited by the incident pilot during this incident was below that required to safely fly the aircraft.” Lewis went on to say that “the proper choice for the school would have been to charter the flight… Unfortunately by putting the children in an aircraft with a private pilot the school bypassed every layer of safety provided to protect the general public in air transportation.”
Steve Blake, the teacher who organized the students’ trip, was also found to be negligent in vetting the pilot’s qualifications, as well as adhering to his students’ parents’ concerns about the weather.
ALCS initially denied a role in the incident, saying that the students’ trip was not associated with the school, but after much deliberation and feedback from the parents, they acknowledged responsibility for their role in what ultimately could have been avoided.
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