Partners and lawyers at a Florida law firm are expressing shock after four of their colleagues were killed in a plane crash over Lake Okeechobee last Friday. Eric Peterson, 73, of Lighthouse Point, Florida, a founding member of the Peterson Bernard law firm, perished in the crash, along with Matthew Fiorello, 36, of Palm Beach Gardens; Heather Bridwell, 43, of Jupiter; Edwin “Ted” Mortell III, 54, of Stuart; and their pilot, Eduardo Mulet, 45, of West Palm Beach.
The five were traveling on a Piper PA-23-250 airplane on a return flight from Tampa and were in the last stretches of the flight when it appears the plane experienced engine trouble. A text message from Matthew Fiorello to his wife Rachel confirms there were problems with the flight and that the pilot was attempting an emergency landing at a small airport in Pahokee instead of its intended destination, the North Palm Beach County Airport.
The plane crashed at 3:26 p.m. local time approximately 400 yards from shore and just north of the Pahokee Airport. It was pulled from the lake on Sunday and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are investigating the crash.
According to officials in Tampa, the flight was a charter and FAA records indicate it was registered to L-Holdings LLC in Wilmington, Delaware. The return flight departed from Tampa airport’s Sheltair Aviation Services executive hangar complex. Charter companies are regulated by the FAA under a high standard of safety including a higher level of pilot training, certification, maintenance and more frequent proficiency checks. Mulet was a licensed commercial pilot and, according to his niece, he flew multiple times a week and worked as a flight instructor.
“The crash occurred during the day and in seemingly good weather conditions so investigators will look at other causes including potential defects with the aircraft,” said Mike Andrews of the Beasley Allen Law Firm where he handles complex litigation including aviation cases. “Design defects with the Piper PA-23-250 aircraft have caused crashes in the past, which may help inform the investigation of this crash.”
Engine failure also brought down another Piper PA-23-250 airplane last December. A flight instructor was testing a student pilot and simulated engine failure when the engine actually failed. None of the three people aboard that plane were killed, and nobody else was injured or killed despite the plane crashing into a neighborhood. Miraculously, the plane crashed into a driveway, but did not hit any homes and there was no fire or explosion. The NTSB is still investigating that crash as well.
Palm Beach Post