CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Lawyers are planning mediation sessions to try to resolve two federal lawsuits stemming from a 2010 plane crash in western Wyoming that killed a Minnesota father and three sons.
Pilot Luke Bucklin, 41, of Minneapolis, 14-year-old twins Nate and Nick, and 12-year-old Noah all died when their plane went down in Wyoming's rugged Wind River Range.
Bucklin's estate is pressing one lawsuit against Serco Inc., a Virginia-based company that provides air traffic control services at the Jackson Hole Airport. Bucklin's ex-wife, the mother of the three boys, is pressing the other lawsuit against Serco.
Both lawsuits claim an air traffic controller's negligence caused the crash. Serco, which was hired by the Federal Aviation Administration to provide services at the airport, is denying blame.
Lawyers for Bucklin's estate and Serco filed notice with U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson of Cheyenne last week informing him the case involving the children's estates is set to go before a mediator in Minneapolis this week. Although the federal government isn't officially a defendant in the case yet, the notice states that the government and Serco both have agreed to participate in the mediation.
The case involving Bucklin's estate is set to go to mediation with Serco and the federal government next month, the lawyers stated. Attempts to reach lawyers for Bucklin's estate and Serco were unsuccessful. Johnson ordered the lawyers to brief him again in August on the status of the lawsuits.
Bucklin was president and co-founder of the Bloomington, Minn.-based Web development company Sierra Bravo Corp. He had flown his single-engine, 1977 Mooney propeller plane to Jackson to attend a family event.
On his return flight, Bucklin took off with his three sons in a snowstorm and soon ran into trouble as he tried to cross the Wind River Range, an extremely rugged area that's home to Wyoming's highest peak, Mt. Gannett, which reaches just over 13,800 feet.
The Associated Press obtained a recording of Bucklin's last radio transmissions from the Federal Aviation Administration. Just before the crash, the pilot says he's struggling to gain altitude.
"Descending rapidly," Bucklin says on the recording.
"Reporting severe mountain waves," Bucklin said about a minute later, referring to wind currents over the peaks. "Probably going to (garble)."
Mountaineers found the wreckage of Bucklin's plane and the bodies of the four victims after a weeklong search.
The National Transportation Safety Board adopted a report on the cause of Bucklin's accident last fall. The NTSB concluded Bucklin's decision to fly his heavily loaded plane over mountains in snowy weather probably caused the accident.
However, the NTSB also noted that an air traffic controller had given Bucklin an improper flight clearance. The controller spelled out a path that would take him over the Wind River Range at too low an altitude. The agency said that improper clearance, and Bucklin's acceptance of it, contributed to the accident.
"The assigned altitude was lower than and counter to FAA published requirements for the area in which the pilot was flying," the report states, "but neither the pilot nor the controller questioned the altitude assignment."
The NTSB said that Bucklin's plane was at or near its maximum certified weight at takeoff.
"Although the information was available to him, the pilot was either unaware of or discounted the fact that the clearance route that he was issued and accepted required a minimum altitude near the performance limits of the airplane, and that altitude was significantly higher than the altitude he had requested," the report stated.