By Paul Gable
After being delayed for six months due to Covid 19 restrictions, depositions in the lawsuit SkyDive Myrtle Beach v. Horry County et al will begin September 30, 2020.
The lawsuit evolved from the county shutting down operations of SDMB and evicting them from the North Myrtle Beach airport using a Director’s Report from the FAA in which 112 alleged safety violations played a large part in the FAA claiming SDMB operations at Grand Strand Airport were unsafe.
This is where things get tricky. The county used an informal means of reporting the alleged safety violations, a county generated form called an “Unusual Incident Report”.
When responding to a Freedom of Information Request for documentation associated with these reports, the county responded by sending the Unusual Incident Reports but no supporting documentation.
A short memorandum from county attorney Arrigo Carotti included with the FOIA response said, “These records are provided in an abundance of caution, in that each may or may not demonstrate violation by Skydive Myrtle Beach of Horry County Department of Airports Minimum Standards, as that assessment has not been undertaken.”
In other words, the county reported SDMB had committed 112 safety violations without ever investigating any, according to Carotti’s memo.
When a FOIA request for documentation on the 112 alleged safety violations was sent to the FAA, the response from Thomas A Winston, Manager Flight Standards Division, Southern Region of the FAA was, “You requested information regarding 112 allegations of safety violations used to make the table in the Director’s Report dated October 7, 2015 by Randall Fiertz. We searched our files maintained in the South Carolina Flight Standards District Office. We could not find any documents responsive to your request.”
The FAA had no documents supporting any of the 112 alleged safety violations. Anytime a suspected safety violation has taken place at an FAA regulated airport, a Mandatory Occurrence Report is supposed to be filed with the FAA and entered into the CEDAR (Comprehensive Electronic Data Analysis and Reporting) system. . No MORs were found in the FAA system with respect to the alleged violations by SDMB.
How did Fiertz include a table of 112 safety violations that were never investigated by either the FAA or Horry County Department of Airports?
This is one question that will have to be answered to demonstrate that the county and the FAA acted in accordance with due process and prevailing laws with respect to shutting down the SkyDive Myrtle Beach operations.
Interestingly, on September 22, 2015, two weeks prior to the issuance of the October 7, 2015 Director’s Report, Carotti stated to the judge during a court hearing, “As documented and confirmed by the FAA, between March of 2013 and August of this year there have been in excess of 90 safety violations involving skydiving operations at Grand Strand Airport…”
Two weeks prior to the issuance of the FAA report, Carotti stated in court the FAA had confirmed safety violations, which the FAA later stated in an FOIA response that it had no records for. If there wasn’t collusion between the FAA and the county to shutdown SDMB, how did Carotti have advance knowledge of the findings that would be included in the report, with no supporting documentation, so that he could make such a statement before a judge?
Below is an extract from an email sent from Carotti to at least one member of council questioning the case (Aaron Holly is the principal owner of SDMB):
“On Aug 15, 2017, at 11:24 AM, Carotti, Arrigo <CarottiA@HorryCounty.org> wrote:
“The misrepresentation of facts and the law has been ongoing on the part of Mr. Holly, misguided bloggers, and Holly surrogates for several years now, involving universally unsuccessful litigation by Holly, and pending litigation against the FAA, the State of South Carolina, Horry County, officials and employees. There have been no new admissions, the FAA’s and County’s sound positions in the matter remaining the same. Defamatory commentary on the part of Holly and his surrogates also has been ongoing and is expected to continue, but has been rightfully dismissed by all who have discerned the true set of affairs, borne out in voluminous court documents and public records.
Arrigo P. Carotti / County Attorney”
As you can read in the above email, Carotti claims misguided bloggers (yours truly included) have misrepresented the facts and law of the case. It should also be noted that the owners of SkyDive Myrtle Beach are military veterans who first received parachute training at military jump schools. These are the people Carotti claims have misrepresented the facts.
It appears there was certainly misrepresentation of the facts in the case. However, the misrepresentation appears to be from the county and the FAA.
Carotti is scheduled to be deposed along with other county employees, Robinson Aviation employees and several FAA officials. Robinson Aviation runs the tower at Grand Strand Airport under contract with Horry County Department of Airports. Some Robinson employees are named as having completed Unusual Incident Reports. The FAA officials involved in writing the Director’s Decision and Horry County airport employees and attorneys who were involved in the process against SDMB will all have the opportunity to justify their actions.
It is now put up or shut up time for the county with respect to proving the allegations by its attorney of safety violations by SDMB and for the FAA to justify how a Director’s Determination was issued without evidence of wrongdoing on the part of SDMB.