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Family gets $6.8 million in lawsuit over fatal mid-air plane crash in Moncks Corner

By Angie Jackson, The Post & Courier

Relatives of a Berkeley County father and son killed when an Air Force jet rammed into their Cessna over Moncks Corner in 2015 will receive a $6.8 million settlement from the federal government.

U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel approved the wrongful death settlement during a hearing Friday where he said the agreement was “very fair and just” given the “tragic circumstances.”

The mid-air collision killed 30-year-old Joseph Johnson and his father, Michael Johnson, 68.

Relatives of the younger Johnson, the Cessna’s pilot, will receive $3.5 million. His father’s relatives will receive $3.3 million, said James Brauchle, an attorney representing the family for Motley Rice law firm in Mount Pleasant.

The agreement spares the family further expenses and litigation, Brauchle said. And while he said “you never can have closure in these situations,” loved ones of the father and son can start to move forward.

“They can put the litigation aspect behind them,” Brauchle said.

The government earlier admitted fault in the crash but had contested “the existence, type and quantum of damages available” to the family.

The lawsuit filed last year alleged air traffic control personnel with the Federal Aviation Administration failed to take action and provide “clear, concise standard” instructions to the Air Force pilot until a collision between his F-16 fighter jet and the Cessna was imminent.

Attorneys said the crash would have been averted had the air traffic controller and her supervisors provided appropriate navigational guidance.

The aircraft collided July 7, 2015, four minutes after the Johnsons had taken off in their two-seat plane from the Berkeley County Airport in Moncks Corner en route to the Myrtle Beach area.

The jet’s pilot, Air Force Maj. Aaron Johnson (no relation), was said to be on a solo mission to practice instrument-assisted approaches at Charleston Air Force Base and planned to return to Shaw Air Force Base near Sumter later that day.

At 11 a.m., an air traffic control radar system was alerted to the conflict between the Cessna and F-16. Three seconds later, a controller alerted the jet’s pilot that the two planes were 2 miles apart.

 The pilot responded that he was looking for the aircraft. The next transmission he received from the controller was to “turn left heading 180 if you don’t have that traffic in sight,” according to the lawsuit. The pilot then received a command to turn “immediately,” which he would later describe to investigators as “the closest call I’ve ever received.”

The F-16 started to turn. Seconds later, it sliced the Cessna in half.

Debris rained down over the Cooper River where authorities later recovered the bodies of the father and son.

The jet’s pilot parachuted to safety.

A National Transportation Safety Board inspector found the F-16 pilot should have been told to expedite the turn, as the collision likely could have been avoided if the jet had turned immediately.