A civil trial started today stemming from a 2005 plane crash at Katama Airfield, with jurors hearing from one of the crash survivors and taking a trip to the airfield to look at the plane’s wreckage.
The plane’s pilot, Alec Naiman, and his passengers, Jeffrey and Jessica Willoughby, are suing Cessna Aircraft Company in Dukes County Superior Court, claiming that the accident was the result of faulty rails on the pilot’s seat. Cessna is arguing that the crash was due to pilot error.
All three of the plane’s occupants have been deaf since birth. The June 23, 2005, flight was part of an annual Deaf Pilots Association “fly-in,” where deaf pilots from around the country gathered in one location and took daily trips to nearby airports.
The Hon. Cornelius J. Moriarty, 2nd is presiding over the trial, which is unusual in a couple of respects: it is taking place in the selectmen’s meeting room on the ground floor of town hall because Mr. Naiman is in a wheelchair and the four-week trial would tie up the county’s main courtroom, and interpreters are using sign language to communicate the proceedings.
A jury that was selected two weeks ago walked across the street from the courthouse Monday morning, taking seats in a room crowded with at least ten lawyers, the three plaintiffs, and boxes upon boxes of paperwork.
After opening arguments, the jurors boarded a school bus to blustery Katama Airfield, where they looked at the battered fuselage of the plane, and then were shown an identical model of the single-engine Cessna that was intact.
Later in the afternoon, Miss Willoughby was the trial’s first witness, describing her memories of the crash.
“It was very painful and I’ll never forget how it felt. I couldn’t move my legs and the first thing I thought was, I’ll never move again,” she said, using sign language to communicate through an interpreter.
“I woke up and smelled gasoline and blood was all over me,” she said. She later had back surgery to implant a metal rod in her spine, and surgery on both her ankles.
She said she thinks about the accident every day. “I always think of it,” she said. “Even when I sleep, I have nightmares.”
The judge allowed her to raise her shirt to show jurors the large crescent scar on her left side from the back surgery.