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Parents of pilot killed in Burley airport crash seek punitive damages

A bench at the entrance to the city of Burley
Christopher Sebela

Two years ago, on April 13, 2022, a pilot died attempting to land at the Burley Municipal Airport.

Brittney Infanger, from Salmon, was transporting UPS packages from Salt Lake City to Burley in her single-engine Cessna, when the plane struck a smokestack on top of the Gem State Processing potato plant on the approach to the runway. A witness said he saw the plane enter a plume of steam produced by the stacks before crashing into one of them and falling to the roof.

Infanger’s parents, Jim Bob and Sharon Infanger, filed a wrongful death lawsuit last year against Gem State, Burley Park L.C., the cities of Burley and Heyburn, Minidoka County and the Idaho Transportation Department’s Division of Aeronautics. They alleged negligence, accusing the entities of “placing their economic returns above the lives of pilots using the Burley Airport.”

Now, the Infanger family seeks permission from the court to pursue additional punitive damages against the private companies involved (under Idaho law, governmental entities are immune from punitive damages). The request to amend the complaint, filed Friday, alleges that “bureaucratic and corporate indifference” by Gem State Processing and Burley Park, L.C. led to the plane crash.

A lawyer for Gem State Processing did not return a call for comment Monday and an attorney for Burley Park, L.C. declined to comment on the new filing.

A preliminary investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board did not conclude the cause of the crash. It noted snowy and misty conditions and that the pilot, Infanger, was on her second landing attempt after missing the first approach. A final crash investigation, usually completed within a two-year time frame, has not yet been released.

The push for punitive damages comes after extensive depositions and document reviews, revealing long-standing safety concerns about the airport.

Mark Mitton, the former Burley City Administrator who left his job this year, allegedly told the city council in 2013 that the airport was unsafe, and would always be unsafe, in its current location, yet conversations about moving the airport reportedly date back to the 90s.

Burley was allegedly aware that Gem State Processing extending its smokestacks could pose safety concerns, but its economic development director told the FAA in 2015 that the proposed construction would present "no significant hazard regarding flights in and out of the airport," and, according to a deposition, he said this because of the economic benefits the expansion would bring to the city. The FAA pulled funding for the airport in 2018 for failing to meet runway safety standards.

Gem State Processing, on the other hand, is accused of failing to notify the FAA before building the plant or raising the height of its smokestacks, while Burley Park L.C, the company’s landlord on the property owned by the city of Burley, allegedly neglected to ensure compliance with federal and local regulations. The lawsuit claims the company also shares liability for the city of Burley’s actions, or lack thereof, with regards to the property.

According to the lawsuit, Mitton said the city has done nothing in the two years since the crash to prevent a similar accident from happening. Despite this, the airport remains open and operational. The lawsuit claims the smokestacks aren’t properly marked or lighted and reports say runway conditions are deteriorating.

The current Burley City Administrator, Brett Boyer, said the city hired an engineering firm to evaluate an alternate airport site. However, public input on this review is not expected until later this year at the earliest.

A trial in the wrongful death lawsuit is scheduled for February next year.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on X @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2024 Boise State Public Radio

I cover environmental issues, outdoor recreation and local news for Boise State Public Radio. Beyond reporting, I contribute to the station’s digital strategy efforts and enjoy thinking about how our work can best reach and serve our audience. The best part of my job is that I get to learn something new almost every day.

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