A pilot is suing a Utah nonprofit for damages after he struck an apparently ill-placed, camouflaged portable toilet while landing a plane at an Emery County airstrip a year ago.
Wayne Grant was teaching a flight-instructor course for Cornerstone Aviation on Sept. 15, 2016, when he decided to land at Hidden Splendor airstrip, a backcountry runway atop a narrow bluff south of Interstate 70 and east of Capitol Reef National Park.
Grant surveyed the strip to make sure it was clear, according to the lawsuit, then he maneuvered away to approach from the south.
Unbeknownst to the pilot, that’s when someone — allegedly with the environmentalist group Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, or working under its direction — placed two portable toilets on or very near the landing strip for an event, the lawsuit states.
Grant reportedly didn’t notice the toilets — which were “painted in colors that nearly perfectly matched” their surroundings — until seconds before running into one of them. He couldn’t swerve to avoid them, the lawsuit states, because that might have sent the plane careening over the cliff.
The crash reportedly caused severe wing damage, and plane couldn’t fly again without several repairs and inspections.
Placing toilets near the airstrip was “obviously and unreasonably dangerous,” the lawsuit states, and the nonprofit should have known as much, given its familiarity with backcountry areas and the general shape and operation of aircrafts.
Specifically, the lawsuit states, the organization should have known “planes have wings, and require sufficient clear space around the airstrip for those wings in order to land safely.”
Even if the nonprofit didn’t know the area or the airstrip, the lawsuit says, it would “have to be blind not to have seen it when they installed their portable toilets.”
The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance didn’t respond to a phone call seeking comment Tuesday evening.
Attorneys for Grant, Cornerstone Aviation and Taildragger Dirt LLC, filed the lawsuit Monday in 7th District Court. It alleges negligence and gross negligence and is seeking less than $300,000 in damages for lost revenue and damaged reputations.