Lawsuit over 2019 plane crash could impact key Senate campaign in Montana for Republicans

A lawsuit concerning a tragic 2019 plane crash in Florida risks derailing the campaign of a top Republican candidate and could determine who controls Congress.

In February of that year, a seaplane with two passengers suddenly came crashing down into a home in Winter Haven, Florida.

The crash killed one of the passengers, a flight instructor, and wounded 17-year-old Carmelle Ngalamulumes, who was pinned to a wall by the wreckage.

The only person who came away relatively unscathed was Timothy Sheehy, an aerospace executive and former Navy SEAL, who was training to add a seaplane certification to his already lengthy list of flight credentials.

Now, Mr Sheehy may run for office in Montana, where the GOP hopes it can help secure control of the US Senate. Right now, US Senator Jon Tester is the only elected Democrat statewide, and Democrats in the US Senate only hold a slim 51-49 majority nationwide.

The Ngalamulumes family is suing the Montana businessman, seeking over $100,000 in damages and accusing him of negligent behaviour in the cockpit.

A National Transportation Safety Board review of the crash found that Mr Sheehy and his flight instructor, 64-year-old pilot James Wagner, had discussed practising an engine failure, and conducted a thorough pre-flight review of the aircraft before taking off.

Not long after taking off, and still flying at a low altitude of around 200 feet above the ground, the instructor reduced the throttle, leading the engine to fully stop producing power.

“They identified the failed engine, the instructor took over the flight controls, and selected a forced landing site,” the report found.

Mr Sheehy was identified as the pilot of the flight, but the NTSB also noted “the instructor’s decision to conduct a simulated engine failure at low altitude” contributed to the crash,” according to The Daily Beast, which reported on the lawsuit.

“During the descent, the flight crew’s engine restart procedures were unsuccessful and they determined that the airplane would not reach the selected forced landing site,” a preliminary NTSB report on the incident in April 2019 read. “The instructor then chose a lake to the airplane’s left as an alternate site. During the left descending turn, the airplane slowed, the left wing dropped and the airplane impacted a house, seriously injuring one of its occupants.”

In his response to the lawsuit, the Montana businessman has identified the instructor as the commanding pilot, and factored the instructor’s decision making as a key cause of the crash.

The Independent has contacted Mr Sheehy for comment.

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