Family members of 2016 plane crash victims sue US government

Family members of a local 8-year-old boy and a mother who died in a plane crash are now suing the U.S. government.

The plane took off from Keystone Heights on Dec. 26, 2016, and crashed into the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee.

The crash killed all three people on board: Bradford County father David Starling; his son, Hunter Starling; and his girlfriend Kim Smith.

David Starling was piloting the plane.

RELATED: Pilot of crashed plane did not have proper license for low-visibility flight

The plane crashed into a mountain peak while flying through a cloud layer where the pilot had low visibility.

The lawsuits filed by Hunter’s mother, Tabitha Starling, and Kim Smith’s son, Joshua Garrett Smith, claim the Federal Aviation Administration “approach controller never warned the pilot that he was at an obvious risk of colliding with the mountain.”

The federal government filed a response blaming the “negligent acts and omissions of the pilot.”

Action News Jax reported in 2016 that Starling did not have the proper license for a low-visibility cross-country flight.

“When you are searching for an airport and you don’t have an instrument rating … you have a tendency to... get lower and lower trying to see the airport and maintain visual contact with the ground. And, unfortunately, the clouds sometimes hide the terrain,” said Jacksonville University assistant professor of aeronautics Wayne Ziskal in 2016.

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The National Transportation Safety Board Aviation Accident Final Report said, “The pilot had a history of disregard for established rules and regulations.”

The report said Starling had a history of operating his plane in conditions he was not licensed to fly in.

The NTSB also said he “used the potentially-impairing stimulant phentermine at some time before the flight, but the samples available for testing were inadequate to quantify impairment.”

Phentermine is an amphetamine-like prescription appetite suppressant.