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Hendrick Motorsports' plane crash trials start Tuesday
A trial to determine who was responsible for the Hendrick Motorsports plane crash that killed 10 people Oct. 24, 2004, on the way to a NASCAR Cup race at Martinsville Speedway is scheduled to begin Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Winston-Salem, N.C.

At issue is who is responsible for the accident – HMS Holdings (parent company of Hendrick Motorsports), the pilots themselves or the government, which is responsible for the air-traffic controllers.

The trial covers five cases involving widows Dianne Dorton (wife of HMS engine builder Randy Dorton), Linda Turner (wife of HMS general manager Jeff Turner), and Tracy Lathram (wife of Tony Stewart pilot Scott Lathram, a passenger on the plane); HMS Holdings; the pilots’ estates; and the United States.

According to court documents, the crash resulted when the pilots overshot the airport by five miles and failed to follow the missed-approach procedure for the Martinsville/Blue Ridge Airport, which requires a climbing right turn to avoid Bull Mountain. The plane, in heavy cloud cover, climbed without turning and crashed into the mountain, killing all 10 aboard.

According to court documents, the government blames Hendrick pilots Richard Tracy and Elizabeth Morrison for failing to follow procedure. Hendrick and the widows believe the government shares some of the responsibility for the actions of the air-traffic controllers. Widow Dianne Dorton’s complaint alleges that the air-traffic controllers did not attempt to contact the pilots even though the plane was descending at 2,500 feet above the end of the runway and continued toward the mountain for more than four minutes until the crash. Hendrick alleges in court documents that the controllers ignored a visual and audible alarm specifically designed to warn them that the aircraft was dangerously close to terrain.

The government contends that the air-traffic controllers were not responsible because the pilots had been given clearance to land without the use of air-traffic control but instead just by using their instruments; that the pilots were using instruments not certified for such a landing; and that the pilots still could have avoided the accident if they made a climbing right turn once they realized their missed approach.

Hendrick already has settled suits with widows Tracy Lathram and Linda Turner but not with Dorton. It is asking for the government to contribute to those settlements, as well as an out-of-court settlement with the family of DuPont executive Joe Jackson. The estates of the pilots also want the government to contribute to any awards they are liable for. All sides could still reach a settlement prior to the start or during the trial.

Among those killed in the crash were team owner Rick Hendrick’s son, Ricky, as well as Rick’s brother, John (president of Hendrick Motorsports) and John’s daughters Kimberly and Jennifer. SceneDaily.com

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