Sergey Brin Sued Over Deadly Crash of His Fiji-Bound Seaplane

February 21, 2024 by

Google co-founder Sergey Brin is facing a wrongful-death suit in California from the widow of the pilot who was flying one of the billionaire’s planes from Santa Rosa to his private island in Fiji last year when it crashed into the Pacific Ocean.

The suit, filed in state court in Santa Clara County, alleges Brin’s $8 million twin-engine seaplane was improperly outfitted with an auxiliary fuel tank that malfunctioned several hours into the May 20 flight, forcing an emergency return to California. It crashed off the coast of Half Moon Bay, killing pilot Lance Maclean and his co-pilot Dean Rushfeldt.

Alphabet Inc.’s Google, which was allegedly part owner of the aircraft, was named as a co-defendant, as were the maintenance company that installed the fuel system and the firm that hired the pilots. The lawsuit also accused Brin of seeking to destroy evidence at the crash scene by obstructing recovery efforts.

“Brin is among the richest people in the world,” lawyers for Maclean’s widow, Maria Magdalena Olarte, said in an amended complaint filed Feb. 13. “If he wanted to recover the aircraft and the remains of those lost, it would be done.”

Brin and representatives for Google didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The plane, a Viking Air Ltd. DHC-6 Twin Otter Series 400, was being flown to Fiji so Brin could treat his guests to some island hopping, according to the suit. The billionaire often hosts parties around the world and flies his guests from the US on his $15 million wide-body jet, according to the complaint.

Out of Fuel

The aircraft didn’t have sufficient fuel capacity to reach Hawaii — the first leg of the trip to Fiji — so Brin and others authorized a mechanic in Santa Rosa to install an auxiliary system inside the fuselage to increase capacity, the suit alleged. But the mechanic didn’t have an assembly checklist and illegally installed it “from memory,” according to the complaint. During the flight, fuel wasn’t transferring from the auxiliary system to the main tanks, eventually causing the crash, the suit says.

In the months that followed, Brin stated publicly that he would help the recovery effort while working behind the scenes to delay and obstruct it, Olarte’s lawyers alleged.

At one point, Brin’s representatives told the pilot’s widow that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was blocking recovery efforts, according to the lawsuit. NOAA allegedly later denied that it had done so.

The lawsuit also accuses Brin’s representatives of misrepresenting weather conditions at the recovery site and their interactions with the US Coast Guard.

“From the outset of the crash, despite publicly assuring Plaintiff that her husband’s remains would be recovered, Brin and his agents decided to leave him at the bottom of the ocean along with evidence that would establish that Defendants were responsible for the crash that killed the two pilots,” according to the complaint.

The case is Maria Magdalena Olarte et al. v. Theodore Neale et al., 24CV430717, Superior Court of the State of California, County of Santa Clara.

Top photo: Sergey Brin Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg.