Wrongful-death suit filed in case of James Island grad killed in plane crash

Police and fire crews respond to a plane crash at the Mount Pleasant Regional airport on Aug. 14. Matthew Gaither, 20, of Johns of Island, and his flight instructor, Graham Borland, 33, of North Charleston, were both killed in the incident.

The family of a James Island Charter High School graduate who died last year during a training flight has filed a wrongful-death suit against Coastal Aviation and its owner.

They allege the Mount Pleasant company misrepresented its flight instructor’s certification prior to the fatal plane crash.

Matthew Gaither, 20, of Johns Island, and his instructor, Graham Borland, 33, of North Charleston, both died when the two-seat Cessna 150M they were in plummeted during takeoff Aug. 14 at Mount Pleasant Regional Airport.

The plane was registered to Hanger Aviation Inc. of Johns Island, of which Gaither’s father, Cole Gaither, is a partner.

Court documents filed Monday by Anthony Forsberg, an attorney for Gaither’s parents, stated the father and son contacted Coastal Aviation owner William G. Pearson the month of the crash and expressed interest in pursuing lessons.

Pearson indicated to the family that Borland was certified through the Federal Aviation Administration to give flight training, the civil suit alleged, but he was not.

Requirements for FAA flight instructor certification include at least a commercial pilot certificate or airline transport pilot certificate, the passing of two written exams, a FAA practical flight test and oral examination, the documents stated.

“The death of Matthew Gaither was proximately caused by Gaithers’ reliance upon the negligent misrepresentation made by Coastal Aviation, Inc. and Pearson that Borland was an FAA certified flight instructor,” the civil suit stated. “Matthew Gaither, deceased, would not have participated in flight instruction from Borland had Coastal Aviation, Inc. and Pearson not misrepresented Borland was an FAA certified flight instructor.”

Pearson declined to comment on the civil suit. It was not immediately clear whether he had an attorney. Cole Gaither referred all comment to his attorney, who could not be reached.

The National Transportation Safety Board reported in September that FAA records showed pilot Graham Borland held a commercial pilot certificate but not an instructor certificate. The report also noted that Borland held a first-class medical certificate issued in May 2012, when he reported 275 total flight hours.

The plane crashed in a vertical, nose-down position in sparse vegetation about 1,100 feet northwest of the runway.

The NTSB has not yet determined what caused the crash. A report that includes a probable cause of the accident usually takes a year and sometimes longer.

The wrongful-death suit, however, alleged Borland “took off with the flaps fully extended causing the airplane to stall and crash.”

Gaither’s family is seeking a jury trial, actual and punitive damages.

Gaither graduated from James Island Charter High School in 2012. He was a linebacker on the football team and also was on the wrestling team. He was taking flight lessons to improve his chances of getting into military special forces, his father said at the time of his death.

Last year’s crash was one of six that had been reported at the airport since 2000. Five of them were fatal.

Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/celmorePC.