Solid Terrain Modeling produces models for fatal plane-crash litigation

Solid Terrain Modeling produces models for fatal plane-crash litigation


Solid Terrain Modeling (STM), manufacturer of the accurate 3-D solid terrain models, has produced two models for the law firm of Wolk & Genter Attorneys at Law. The models were used as exhibits in a lawsuit arising from the fatal crash of a light, twin-engine airplane in the mountains west of Hawthorne, Nevada. Law firm principal Arthur Wolk, who represented the family of the pilot, asked STM to create models of the crash area that would help the jury understand the sequence of events that led to the accident.

The first model included the mountain range, the closest airport, and the plane’s flight path into the crash site. By coordinating transcripts of the conversation between the pilot and controller with positional radar information, and recording a new position every 12 seconds, the plane’s flight path was determined and was overlaid on the model. The second model is a close-up view of the crash site. To show the elevation and location of the aircraft, numbered rods were inserted into the model’s surface. These depicted the position of the aircraft according to the actual radar and black box location data.

The attorneys for the defense (the aircraft maintenance firm and the manufacturer of some of the aircraft’s components) presented an animated ‘fly through’ on a video monitor. The video was a ‘chase plane’ view of the subject plane that depicted the aircraft’s movements in real time. It started just prior to the failure of one of the plane’s engines and ended upon impact. The video ran for about a minute-and-a-half and was shown to the mock jury twice. After the mock trial, the ‘jurors’ told the plaintiff’s legal team that the video could not present the level of understanding that the models did. The models allowed people to view the terrain in detail for as long as they needed, and get a true picture of the site. The mock jurors could discuss and re-tell the case details as they understood them, while referring to the STM models for clarification. The jurors said that the physical model was easier to understand, and it allowed them to discuss the issues with each other more easily than the animation. The case was settled in favor of the plaintiff before it went to trial.

The elevation data to create the terrain for both models was gathered from the US Geological Survey (USGS) archive. The image of the terrain was from satellite photos and from USGS maps.