Michigan Pilot’s Family Rejects Federal Findings in 2007 Crash

October 19, 2009

The wife of the pilot of a 2007 medical flight that crashed into Lake Michigan, killing all six aboard, said that the family has rejected the National Transportation Safety Board’s findings on the crash and will launch its own investigation.

The NTSB last week said Capt. Bill Serra, who was flying the twin-engine Cessna from Milwaukee to Michigan, mishandled an unusual flight situation and was unable to properly coordinate with his first officer.

But Debbie Serra told The Associated Press that the family believes mechanical and design problems caused the crash, and that the NTSB was searching for scapegoats.

“It’s not ended. The NTSB has just finished their investigation. Our’s begins now,” said Serra, of Macomb Township, about 25 miles northeast of Detroit.

She said the family has retained an attorney and will seek to question some of the same people interviewed by the NTSB.

Serra and her family earlier had released a statement outlining its position on the federal probe. The statement was first provided to The Detroit News.

Keith Holloway, an NTSB spokesman, said the board had no comment on the family’s statement but stood by its findings.

A four-member medical crew affiliated with the University of Michigan was on board, as well as human organs for transplant.

Bill Serra was a pilot for more than 30 years and earned the respect of passengers and other pilots, his widow said.

“I just can’t believe they speak so badly about these pilots,” Debbie Serra said.

She said allegations that her husband did something wrong were not backed up by sworn testimony, and that favorable statements about him from other company pilots were not presented at this week’s hearing.

Besides faulting Serra and first officer Dennis Hoyes, the NTSB said that a culture of lax security by flight operator Marlin Air contributed to the crash. The board also cited the failure of the Federal Aviation Administration to detect and correct deficiencies of the company.

A telephone listing for Marlin Air’s offices in Michigan wasn’t working Friday.

The safety board cited the checkered history of Serra, and faulted Marlin Air for not being aware that in two separate incidents, Serra’s pilot’s license was temporarily revoked. He had been convicted of using a plane to smuggle drugs into the United States.

In response, the pilot’s family noted the NTSB was aware Serra was allowed to re-earn his pilot’s license.

“Capt. Serra’s legal troubles occurred almost 30 years ago and were the tragic result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” the family’s statement said. “He chose not to mount an aggressive defense after his wife and children received specific death threats related to his cooperation with the prosecution.”

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