Doomed plane requested by Google co-founder for Fiji island-hopping parties, lawsuit claims


SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — A wrongful death lawsuit filed in Santa Clara County claims Google co-founder Sergey Brin was partying on his private Fiji island when he requested that two pilots shuttle his private plane from Santa Rosa to Fiji. The billionaire tech executive wanted the plane to go “island hopping” with friends, according to the suit filed earlier this month by one of the pilot’s widows.

“Brin is known for hosting the rich and famous for parties at locations around the world,” attorneys wrote next to a photograph of Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Brin socializing.

On May 20, 2023, the small plane was rigged with 10,000 pounds of extra jet fuel to make the long journey from Santa Rosa, to Hawaii, to Fiji.

Two of the richest men in the world, Elon Musk and Sergey Brin, are seen in a photograph published in the civil lawsuit. (Image courtesy Santa Clara County Superior Court)

The aircraft took off at 8:05 a.m. from a Sonoma County airstrip. “The aircraft’s ultimate destination was Brin’s private island in Fiji,” attorneys wrote. While the plane was flying over the Pacific Ocean, the two pilots realized that the extra fuel tank was not working. They turned the plane around and attempted to make it back to land, but crashed into the ocean a few miles from Half Moon Bay’s beaches.

Fiji is famous for the islands’ clear turquoise water. (Getty Images)

Co-pilots Lance Maclean and Dean Rushfeldt never made it out of the cockpit. U.S. Coast Guard crews spotted the plane floating in the water with the pilots still in their seats before the aircraft sank to the ocean floor.

The lawsuit states, “Instead of bringing all assets to bear to recover the aircraft and the pilots as promised, Brin partied on in Fiji, knowing that his long-time pilots and friends lay at the bottom of the ocean.”

Brin cofounded Google with Larry Page in 1998 while they were students at Stanford University and studying computer science. Brin’s current net worth is $115.7 billion, according to Forbes.

Maria Magdalena Olarte Maclean
Maria Magdalena Olarte Maclean’s husband, pilot Lance Maclean, was killed in a 2023 plane crash. (Photo via Santa Clara County Superior Court)

Pilot Maclean’s widow, Maria Magdalena Olarte Maclean, said she has suffered extreme emotional trauma because she has been unable to give her husband a proper burial.

The lawsuit, claiming tortious interference with a dead body and wrongful death, demands a jury trial.

The lawsuit names several defendants, including: Brin; Google; Seafly, the company that maintained the plane; Theodore Neale, Seafly’s aviation director; and Bayshore Global Management, Brin’s investment firm.

Maria Magdalena Olarte Maclean and her husband are seen in a family photo (right). The plane is seen after crashing into the ocean (left). (Images via SCCSC)

Court documents detail what allegedly led up to the double fatal plane crash. “To get the aircraft from California to Fiji for Brin’s personal use, Brin’s agents instructed the aircraft’s maintenance team, Seafly, to ready the ferry flight,” court documents state. Neal served as the director of aviation for Seafly. A Seafly mechanic installed a ferry fuel system inside the aircraft’s fuselage at the Santa Rosa airport.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin’s private plane is seen before the deadly crash. (Image via SCCSC)

Brin’s Viking Air Ltd. DHC-6 Twin Otter Series 400 N153QS private plane was illegally altered, attorneys claim.

Hours into the flight, the pilots asked over the radio for assistance with a ferry fuel system malfunction. Fuel was not transferring from the extra fuel bladders into the main fuel tanks, starving the plane of fuel, an investigation by the FAA found.

Nicole Shanahan and Sergey Brin attend the Breakthrough Prize Red Carpet at NASA Ames Research Center in 2019 in Mountain View. (Photo by Ian Tuttle / Getty Images for Breakthrough Prize)

The pilots declared an emergency, and air traffic control dispatchers alerted the U.S. Coast Guard that the aircraft would likely ditch in the ocean. The last communication with the aircraft was at 3,900 feet of elevation when the pilots reported “dead stick.” At 1:54 p.m., the plane crashed into the ocean.

USGS crews found the plane 33 miles from the coast of Half Moon Bay. Wreckage, the pilots’ bodies, and 10,000 pounds of jet fuel eventually sank to the bottom of the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google Inc., wears Project Glass internet glasses while speaking at the Google I/O conference in San Francisco. (Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Maclean was an experienced pilot and a former Naval aviator. He could have successfully completed the ferry flight if FAA regulations — designed to protect against such crashes — were not violated, the suit claims.

“Plaintiff begged Brin’s agents for help to recover her husband’s remains, which they assured
her would come soon,” attorneys wrote. Maclean’s widow said Brin’s representatives made empty promises without any intention of recovering the pilots’ bodies.

“Brin is among the richest people in the world. If he wanted to recover the aircraft and the remains of those lost, it would be done,” the widow’s attorneys wrote.


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