The Crash That Won’t Go Away

 - January 25, 2008, 5:53 AM

All fatal accidents are tragic, but the crash of Alberto-Culver’s GIV on takeoff from Palwaukee Municipal Airport on that windy late October morning nearly seven years ago was not only tragic but also included several elements that made it particularly susceptible to post-crash litigation.

In the cockpit of the Alberto-Culver airplane, operated under an interchange agreement with Aon, were Aon-employed pilot-in-command Martin Koppie and Alberto-Culver-employed copilot Robert Whitener. In the cabin were Aon Risk Management chairman and CEO Arthur Quern, and Catherine Anderson, an American Airlines flight attendant who worked as a contract corporate flight attendant when her airline schedule permitted.

Aon had requested use of the Alberto-Culver airplane for a trip to California’s Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport. In the 30 minutes before the 1 p.m. takeoff, winds were reported at 280 degrees, between 20 and 25 knots, with gusts to 35 knots. As the jet began accelerating on Runway 34, the wind was 24 knots at a 60-degree crosswind.

At about 1,340 feet along the 5,137-foot Runway 34, N23AC veered left 5.14 degrees to a heading of 335 degrees and ran off the runway. At that time, according to NTSB, one of the pilots said, “Reverse,” then the other said, “No, no, no, go, go, go, go.” The aircraft traversed a shallow ditch that paralleled the runway, tearing away both main landing gear, the left and right flaps and a piece of the left aileron control cable. Tire marks indicated no braking action.

The airplane became airborne after striking a small berm at the upwind end of the runway. An airport employee who witnessed the accident from the departure end of Runway 34 reported that the back end of the airplane exploded before it departed the airport boundary. N23AC crossed a highway outside the airport boundary and finally came to rest on the banks of Buffalo Creek and in the parking lot of an apartment complex.

Koppie, Whitener, Anderson and Quern died in the crash. A coroner’s report indicated that Whitener survived the initial crash and died of burns and smoke inhalation as he tried to escape the wreckage.