FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. — Alexis George would’ve turned 20 this week. Two years ago, the Fernandina Beach teen was killed with her flight instructor when their plane nosedived into the St. Marys River.
The National Transportation and Safety Board recently released its report, blaming pilot error for the crash. Her parents say it’s easy to blame someone who can’t defend himself. In an exclusive interview with Action News Jax’s John Bachman, they say there’s more to this story and they’re suing to find out.
Eighteen-year-old Alexis George soared in high school with a 4.74 grade point average. By the summer of 2021 she was ready to take off. She had a full scholarship to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to pursue her passion to fly.
“That’s what she wanted to do,” Kim George, Alexis’ mom said. “If you see the pictures with her smile, and then the airplane. You couldn’t take that away from her. She was the perfect daughter.”
Alexis never made it to college.
A 9-1-1 caller reported the crash: “Hey, I just saw a plane crash from right across the St. Marys downtown dock ... ”
On June 18, 2021, Alexis’ dreams crashed into the St. Marys River during a training flight with A-Cent Aviation instructor, retired Navy pilot David Cuttino.
“I just didn’t want to believe in just the worst day of my life. I’ll never get over it,” Kim George said.
When asked what the last two years have been like, she added, “Pretty much torture. It’s it’s hard.”
Devastated, Alexis’ parents wanted answers. NTSB launched an investigation and released its report just last month — nearly two years after the crash. In it, eyewitnesses describe the plane entering an “aerodynamic stall and subsequent spin” before hitting the water. Its “Probable Cause and Findings” states the instructor’s “decision to conduct slow flight training” below the school’s minimum altitude and “his delayed remedial action” caused the plane to stall, putting the blame on the instructor.
“I’ve been around long enough to know, when you know, this guy, this guy can’t defend himself. He’s not here. So sometimes blame can be put very easily on somebody that can’t defend himself,” Michael George, Alexis’ dad, said.
The Georges believe something happened to the plane that forced the nosedive. They’re suing A-Cent — the flight school, and the Alabama company that sold A-Cent the plane — Pinnacle Aircraft Engines, LLC, along with Fernandina Beach Aircraft Maintenance. Their attorney, Jody Wade, said it wasn’t the pilot it was the plane —claiming in the lawsuit “the 1971 Cessna 150L was not in an airworthy condition and should not have been allowed to fly.”
“The evidence in this case, based on our forensic examination, is that that housing, the elevator bell crank was woefully insufficient, that plane should have never been in the air,” Wade said.
Wade points to a picture of what he called the elevator bell crank. He showed a picture of what he said is a normal bell crank and then a picture of the part from the plane that crashed. Wade said his metal expert will testify that the damage was not from the crash, but instead, it caused the crash. The lawsuit claims the bell crank had “incorrect hardware” and its failure was “foreseeable.”
“I think this is not the result of a sudden impact in the St. Marys River. That’s not what this is,” he said.
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For the Georges, whether the lawsuit uncovers a cause different from the NTSB report or doesn’t, the tragic reality is the same.
“I’ve been thinking about her quite a bit lately. And we just miss her. She was the best of both of us. Really,” Michael George said.
We reached out to all three companies named in the lawsuit. A-Cent said no comment. Pinnacle Aircraft referred us to the NTSB report. We could not reach Fernandina Beach Aircraft Maintenance.