Relatives blame air traffic controller for fatal crash


The Zitting family died when their plane went down in a field in Harrisburg in April of 2017

The Piper airplane that crashed while flying from Van Nuys, California to Eugene, Oregon on April 7, 2017. (NTSB)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — John and Karen Zitting were flying their 17-year-old son Brendan from their California home to Eugene to explore the University of Oregon as a possible place for him to attend college when their plane went down.

The crash killed the family and pilot. Nearly three years later, relatives are blaming the air traffic controller for the fatal flight in a lawsuit filed in federal court in Oregon.

​​The Zittings were passengers in a single-engine Piper airplane flying from Van Nuys, California on April 7, 2017, when the plane hit rough weather just before 11 a.m. and crashed in a grassy field in Harrisburg, Oregon.

According to the lawsuit, air traffic control knew about dangerous weather conditions, including the potential of low-level wind shear near Eugene, but air traffic control did not warn the pilot, Mark Gregory Aletky, 67, of Acton, California. The suit says air traffic control directed Aletky into a 55 mph headwind.

​​Jay Patel witnessed the crash and told National Transportation Safety Board investigators he saw the plane flying above the treetops followed by a near-vertical nose dive behind the tree line. ​

Gloria Johnson told the NTSB she watched from her home as the plane flew low directly above her and distinctively remembers hearing a loud engine running. A second later, the engine went completely quiet. She said she watched the Piper gliding before it dropped behind the tree line.​

The wrongful death lawsuit does not name a dollar amount but says air traffic control was negligent. ​

Read the Zitting family obituary.

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