Cessna mockup is a trial exhibit

A mock up of the cabin of a single-engine Cessna at the center of a civil trial now underway in Dukes County Superior court was placed next to Edgartown town hall where the jury could inspect it. — Photo by Ben Hall

The unusual appearance of a mockup of a Cessna airplane cabin next to the Edgartown town hall is related to a civil trial now underway between a pilot and his passengers and the Cessna Aircraft Company in Dukes County Superior Court.

For the past three weeks, the Edgartown selectmen’s meeting room has been transformed into a proxy for a courtroom. The location change was required because the Dukes County Courthouse does not have wheelchair-accessible bathrooms. One of the defendants uses a wheelchair because of injuries from the crash.

Pilot Alec Naiman and his passengers, Jeffrey Willoughby and Mr. Willoughby’s teenage daughter Jessica, claim the company is responsible for a crash that occurred at the Katama airfield on June 23, 2005, when an aircraft seat malfunctioned.

Last week Mr. Willoughby and his daughter agreed to an undisclosed out of court settlement with Cessna Aircraft, leaving pilot Alec Naiman as the only remaining plaintiff.

Mr. Naiman and Mr. Willoughby are members of the Deaf Pilots Association. The three defendants are deaf and are relying on interpreters and sign language in the court.

The lawsuit alleges that as Mr. Naiman attempted a common maneuver to avoid an aircraft already on the grass runway, his seat catch broke, causing him to slide backward, sending the aircraft into a nose dive.

The aircraft fell about 100 feet, seriously injuring the pilot and his two passengers.

The National Transportation Safety Board ruled the probable cause of the accident was the pilot’s failure to maintain airspeed and that his hearing impairment was a factor in the crash.

The trial is expected to last four to six weeks.