Family of Keller pilot killed in Dallas air show sues organizer for ‘gross negligence’

The family of a pilot from Keller who was killed when two vintage aircraft collided midair at a Dallas air show in November are suing the organizations that put together the show and owned and operated the aircraft for gross negligence and wrongful death.

Len Root’s wife, Angela Root, and daughters Larisa Lichte, Kendra Hockaday and Rebekah Lowery filed their lawsuit in Dallas County Court on Thursday, the family’s lawyers said in a news release.

“It’s with a heavy heart that we file suit, but it’s something we feel compelled to do to protect other pilots,” Angela Root and her daughters said in a statement. “It’s what Len would want.”

Root, along with five other flight crew members, was killed Nov. 12 when a World War II-era P-63 Kingcobra and B-17 Flying Fortress collided midair at the Commemorative Air Force’s Wings Over Dallas air show. Root was the B-17 pilot.

The lawsuit alleges that the show’s air boss, Russell Royce, was unqualified, and the air show’s organizer, the Commemorative Air Force, was aware Royce lacked the skills and experience for the job.

“Allowing Royce to control the flight plan, flight path and operations of these aircraft significantly increased the risk and danger of the Airshow, which was a cause of the fatal crash,” the lawsuit states.

Root’s family is suing the Commemorative Air Force, along with the organizations that owned and maintained the two aircraft — the American Airpower Heritage Flying Museum Inc. and the American Airpower Heritage Museum Inc.

Representatives for the defendants could not immediately be reached for comment.

The lawsuit states that the defendants were negligent in their hiring of Royce and failed to provide him with the proper training and supervision.

“He (Royce) along with the Defendants, failed to draft, organize, and implement a safe and adequate flight plan for the Airshow, including providing safe and adequate linear and lateral, and temporal distance between all participating aircraft,” the suit states. “The Defendants’ failures caused the mid-air collision between the subject P-63F and the subject B-17G aircraft.”

An expert who reviewed the National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report of the crash, released Nov. 30, told KDFW-TV that the pilots didn’t have a plan to coordinate their altitude before the collision.

The report didn’t list a cause of the collision, but retired Air Force and American Airlines pilot Chris Manno told KDFW his major takeaway from the report was that “there were no altitude deconfliction briefed before the flight or while the airplanes were in the air.”

“So they did not prepare for the eventuality of having two aircraft at the same altitude at the same airspace,” he said. “That’s a problem.”

It could take 12 to 24 months to complete the investigation, according to the NTSB.

Root’s family is asking for over $1 million in damages for mental anguish and the loss of love and companionship. They are requesting a jury trial.

Root, who was 66 at the time of his death, obtained his pilot’s license at 16, according to the release. He retired from American Airlines in 2021 as a Boeing 787 international captain and continued to pilot and train pilots after his retirement.

“Len loved to fly and share his love of aviation with others,” the Root family said in their statement. “He spent many enjoyable hours in the company of other pilots flying vintage aircraft, others who were just as committed to safety as he was.”