By Attorneys at Aviation Law Group PS, Seattle
The flight has been called a “sightseeing flight”, yet its purpose was not just for the passengers to look out windows, but to film commercial content for Suspicious Antwerp, a Belgian streetwear clothing brand. The uncertain facts surrounding the flight may play well into a subsequent court jurisdiction and liability analysis, especially for the American skateboarder’s family. Currently, there are many undisclosed critical facts that may weigh in, including the role of Suspicious Antwerp and its representatives in the filming plan, and what contracts are involved.
On February 3, 2022, the flight departed Reykjavik, Iceland for a local flight. It did not return, and the search was ultimately narrowed down to an area of Lake Thankvallavatn, approximately 30 miles east of Reykjavik. The aircraft was located 2 days later, and the four bodies (3 passengers and the pilot) were located 3 days later, both with the assistance of underwater sonar technology and a submarine.
As this was not just an air tour flight, questions arise as to what was the specific flight plan, which ties directly into the filming objective. It is not known if an independent commercial production aviation safety consultant was involved with any planning or review of the flight plan.
Apparently, local security cameras captured the flight over Lake Thingvallavatn and subsequent accident, but the Iceland Aircraft Accident Investigation Board (AAIB) is not publicly releasing those videos at this time, nor are they discussing what they reflect.
Thus, we are left to wonder if the Cessna 172N was intentionally flying low, or attempting to land on the ice, or even planned to skip off of it. As the occupants were not found in the sunken airplane, they may have been able to release their seatbelts and egress the airplane, at some point, after the aircraft began to sink in the freezing water.
While the safe operation of a single-engine aircraft (that is not equipped to land on water) includes operating at a height that if the engine fails the aircraft is high enough to glide to land, that may not have been the case here. Yet, aircraft accidents usually have more contributing causes than one single act.
As it is too early to rule in or rule out many of the common causes of small aircraft accidents, it is anticipated that once all the facts are known the Iceland AAIB will be able to determine causation, and not just leading up to the accident, but will consider all facts leading up to the flight including the filming goals and objectives, and whether an aviation safety expert was retained, separate from the aircraft pilot.
Aviation Law Group members have worked as scenic pilots in remote areas and during commercial filming. The firm handled a fatal aircraft accident that occurred during the filming of a car commercial and has worked with numerous commercial production aviation safety experts. We also have experience and handle accidents that occur overseas, including in the European Union.