Utah nonprofit sued for negligence after pilot hits portable toilets while landing on rural airstrip

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UTAH — A pilot and others are suing a Utah non-profit group for at least $300,000 in damages after an aircraft struck two portable toilets they allege were placed on or near a rural airstrip in Emery County.

Wayne Grant, Taildragger Dirt, LLC and Cornerstone Aviation, Inc. are suing the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance over the incident, which occurred on September 15, 2016 at the Hidden Splendor airstrip, a backcountry landing strip in Emery County.

According to the lawsuit filed Monday, Grant was conducting a training flight that day as part of a course for Cornerstone Aviation and planned to land at Hidden Splendor.

The lawsuit states Grant made a surveillance flight over the airstrip and saw that it was clear and then made his approach for landing, which took some time because the approach to the airstrip goes through a blind canyon.

After the airplane touched down, Grant noticed two portable toilets placed on or adjacent to the airstrip that, “were painted in colors that nearly perfectly matched the color of the surrounding ground area, effectively camouflaging them and making them nearly impossible to see from the air,” the lawsuit alleges.

Grant was unable to avoid the portable toilets due to the speed of the aircraft, the short time before impact, and the fact the airstrip is on a high bluff with cliffs on either side.

The lawsuit alleges the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance had set up the portable toilets for an event being held that day and that they went up after Grant’s initial surveillance flyover but before he came in on his final approach.

They further allege it was unreasonably dangerous to put the toilets on or near an airstrip: “..which is a fact that Defendant either knew or obviously should have known, given its familiarity with Utah’s backcountry areas, and given that it is common knowledge that planes have wings, and require sufficient clear space around the airstrip for those wings in order to land safely,” the lawsuit states.

The collision caused damage to the wing of the plane, and the aircraft could not be used by the plaintiffs for their business while it was being repaired.

The lawsuit accuses SUWA of negligence and gross negligence and seeks damages for both actions, “in no case less than $300,000.” The damages sought are for the damage the plane, the loss of revenue while it was being repaired, and the damage the accident may have done to the reputation of the plaintiffs.

Fox 13 News has reached out to SUWA for comment on the lawsuit.