Plane crash that killed 4 lawyers, pi­lot likely lost en­gine over lake, ex­pert says

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Wayne K. Rous­tan, Tonya Alanez

A twin-en­gine plane car­ry­ing four lawyers from the same South Florida law firm likely lost an en­gine while over Lake Okee­chobee and was try­ing to di­vert course to the near­est airstrip when it crashed into the wa­ter and killed ev­ery­one on­board, flight records show.

The pi­lot, Ed­uardo Mulet, and the Delaware-based char­ter com­pany he flew for also had ques­tion­able cer­ti­fi­ca­tions, on­line records show and ac­cord­ing to a flight ex­pert.

The part­ners from the Peter­son Bernard law firm were re­turn­ing from Tampa on Fri­day where they’d flown that same morn­ing aboard the same plane to meet with new clients. The re­turn flight took off at 2:21 p.m. from Tampa In­ter­na­tional Air­port bound for North Palm Beach County Gen­eral Avi­a­tion air­port. Es­ti­mated time of ar­rival was 3:35 p.m.

At about 3:18 p.m the flight be­gan to un­ravel and by 3:22 it was on its way down, ac­cord­ing to flightaware.com.

“The air­plane was over Lake Okee­chobee when it ex­pe­ri­enced en­gine probems,” Robert Katz, a com­mer­cial pi­lot and cer­ti­fied flight in­struc­tor who has been fly­ing for 38 years. “The di­rec­tion of the flight changes abruptly from south­east to south to west to south­east again and then east again and then it dis­ap­pears.”

It crashed at 3:26 p.m. some 400 yards from shore a lit­tle north of Pa­ho­kee Air­port, said sher­iff’s spokes­woman Teri Bar­bera.

Palm Beach County Fire Res­cue divers found the five bod­ies, the pi­lot and his four pas­sen­gers, when they searched the air­craft fuse­lage in the wa­ter, she said.

They were iden­ti­fied Sat­ur­day as com­mer­cial pi­lot Ed­uardo Mulet, 45, of West Palm Beach; Eric A. Peter­son, 73, of Light­house Point; Matthew Fiorello, 36, of Palm Beach Gar­dens; Heather Brid­well, 43, of Jupiter; and Ed­win Mortell III, 54, of Stu­art

A part­ner for the the Peter­son Bernard law firm that has of­fices in Fort Laud­erdale, Palm Beach and Stu­art, said “ev­ery­body’s in shock.”

“It’s cer­tainly a blow to the firm. We will con­tinue, but it will never be the same,” said Bill Mar­tin, who heads the Fort Laud­erdale of­fice and has been with the firm since 1987.

“I’ve been part­ners with Eric, on a hand­shake, for more than 30 years,” he said. “

Peter­son was mar­ried for more than 50 years. He is sur­vived by his wife, a son and two grand­chil­dren.

Mortell, known as Tom, ex­celled in con­struc­tion-de­fect and wrong­ful death cases, Mar­tin said. He leaves a widow and three sons, all re­cently grad­u­ated from col­lege, Mar­tin said.

“This is the only law job Ted has ever had since be­ing my law clerk when he was [a stu­dent] at Nova [Univer­sity],” Mar­tin said.

As Fri­day af­ter­noon wore on, an of­fice man­ager called Mar­tin con­cerned that she hadn’t heard from the part­ners fly­ing back from Tampa. And she had seen news re­ports of a plane crash­ing into Lake Okee­chobee, Mar­tin said. But it seemed like too weird of a co­in­ci­dence, it couldn’t be real.

Au­thor­i­ties first went to Fio­r­illo’s house and met with his wife Rachel to con­firm that he had been aboard the flight, Mar­tin said.

“So, we did learn that it was our plane around 6 or 7 p.m. Fri­day.”

Fio­r­illo leaves 2 young chil­dren. “He was a very tal­ented young trial lawyer. With us, he had a stream of suc­cess.”

Brid­well was mar­ried and had two ele­men­tary school-aged chil­dren.

“Those two,” Mar­tin said, speak­ing of Fio­r­illo and Brid­well, “went to trial all the time and knocked it out of the park. They were very, very, very good lawyers.”

Mulet held the proper pi­lot cer­ti­fi­ca­tion but his re­quired med­i­cal cer­tifca­tion, records show, would have ex­pired Nov. 30, 2018.

“This ap­pears to be an un­qual­i­fied pi­lot to op­er­ate a char­ter flight,” Katz, the ex­pert, said. “The prob­lem is that his med­i­cal cer­ti­fi­ca­tion was ex­pired. After which he has no priv­i­lege to of­fer his ser­vices as a com­mer­cial pi­lot to the fly­ing pub­lic.”

He held the ap­pro­pri­ate com­mer­cial pi­lot cer­ti­fi­ca­tion with the ap­pro­pri­ate rat­ing for that par­tic­u­lar plane, said Katz who tracks plane crashes na­tion­wide.

The plane went down as it ap­proached the Pa­ho­kee air­port, ac­cord­ing to the FAA. Of­fi­cials in Tampa said the flight was a char­ter that had de­parted from Sheltair Avi­a­tion Ser­vices’ ex­ec­u­tive han­gar com­plex at the Tampa air­port.

The Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board will con­duct the crash in­ves­ti­ga­tion and the sher­iff’s vi­o­lent crimes divi­sion will han­dle the death in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to the Peter­son Bernard web­site:

■ Eric A. Peter­son was a found­ing mem­ber of the law firm in 1981, with de­grees from Ohio Univer­sity and State Univer­sity of New York at Buf­falo. Sev­eral of his cases were fea­tured on na­tional tele­vi­sion news pro­grams in­clud­ing 20-20, In­side Edi­tion and on Direct Tele­vi­sion.

■ Matthew Fiorello was born and raised in South Florida, with de­grees from Clem­son Univer­sity and Nova South­east­ern Univer­sity. Prior to join­ing the firm, Fiorello spent three years as an As­sis­tant Pub­lic De­fender in Broward County where he han­dled cases rang­ing from mis­de­meanor to first-de­gree felonies.

■ Heather Brid­well prac­ticed law since 2000 and had de­grees from Florida State Univer­sity, in Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, and Florida State Univer­sity Col­lege of Law.

■ Ed­win Mortell III was the man­ager of the law firm’s Stu­art of­fice and had de­grees in Eco­nom­ics at South­ern Methodist Univer­sity, and law at Nova South­east­ern Univer­sity.

All four han­dled a wide range of award win­ning le­gal ser­vices to in­sur­ers, third party ad­min­is­tra­tors, busi­nesses, gov­ern­ments and in­di­vid­u­als around the state of Florida from their of­fices in Fort Laud­erdale, West Palm Beach, and Stu­art.

PETER­SON BERNARD/COUR­TESY

Clock­wise from top left, Eric A Peter­son, Matthew Fiorello, Ed­win Mortell III, and Heather Brid­well.

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