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NTSB Report Confirms Engine Failure in Skydiver Crash
Maggie Rotermund St. Clair Missourian Editor
St. Clair Missourian

Two years after filing wrongful death lawsuits in connection with a 2006 Sullivan plane crash, the families involved are happy with the National Transportation Safety Board's final report on the crash.

The report was released Tuesday.

"All of the families commend the NTSB for its efforts and service," said Gary Robb, of Robb and Robb LLC. "This confirms what we have suspected all along - there was engine failure at the worst possible time."

Robb, who represents all four plaintiffs, added that the families are "relieved" that it was engine failure and not human error.

The NTSB said the parachuting industry suffers from inadequate oversight and safety problems such as improper maintenance of planes.

The board has been examining parachuting in the aftermath of six fatal accidents, including the Sullivan crash.

On July 29, 2006, a plane carrying sky divers from the Quantum Leap Skydiving School crashed shortly after takeoff from Sullivan Regional Airport, killing six people.

Killed were the pilot, Scott Cowan, 42, of Sullivan; Robert B. Cook, 22, a skydiving instructor from Rolla, Mo.; Melissa Berridge, 38, of Maryland Heights; Victoria Delacroix, 22, who lived in England; and David Paternoster, 35, a skydiving instructor from Claycomo, Mo.

The Sullivan case is representative of many industry-wide problems.

The board found one of the engines of the plane was long overdue for overhaul.

"We know from records that this plane was maintained very well by the skydiving center," Robb said. "We believe that there are some design issues that precipitated this failure."

Robb said the engine failure in the Sullivan case was fairly typical of this type of engine.

"It is a fatigue failure or cracking of a blade or disc in the PT6A engine," he said.

Board members said that while parachutists take risks jumping out of airplanes, they should not be subject to additional risks.

Robb said the NTSB decision means that legal action in the case could begin to move forward.

The four lawsuits related to the crash were all filed in Franklin County Circuit Court between August and October of 2006.

The suits allege wrongdoing by the maker of the plane's engines. They name Quantum Leap Skydiving Inc. of Sullivan, as well as the engine's manufacturer and those responsible for the plane's maintenance and upkeep.

They seek unspecified damages against United Technologies, the parent company of Pratt & Whitney, which made the PT6A turboprop engines on the DeHavilland DHC-6 airplane operated by Quantum Leap Skydiving Center of Sullivan.

The suits also claim negligence by Hartzell Propellor Inc. of Sidney, Ohio; Woodward Governor Co., of Rockford, Ill., Honeywell International Inc. of Morristown, N.J., Pro Turbine of Hot Springs, Ark., and Northstar Aerospace of Bedford Park, Ill.

The first suit was brought Aug. 2, 2006, by Vivian and Susan Delacroix of Kent, England, parents of Victoria Delacroix, 22. The second suit was filed Aug. 22 by Mark Cook and Annette Bachand, parents of Robert Cook, a 22-year-old University of Missouri-Rolla student.

The third suit was filed in September by Barbara Berridge, mother of Melissa Berridge, a 38-year-old compliance officer for Claire McCaskill's Senate campaign.

A fourth lawsuit was filed in October 2006 by one of the two survivors of the crash.

Steven J. Parrella, 48, of St. Louis, died from injuries relating to the crash earlier this summer.

"It really was quite tragic," Robb said. "He was severely injured - it was amazing he lasted as long as he did."

Robb said all four of the suits are now wrongful death litigation.

"The suits have been consolidated for discover purposes only," Robb said. "The judge will decide at a later date whether to consolidate for judgment." Robb said his investigators will look over the engine now that the NTSB has finished its report.

"Now it is a matter of scheduling," he said. "I couldn't give you a time frame as to where we go from here."

Robb's preliminary investigation pointed to right engine failure just after takeoff.

"All indications to this point - the eyewitness testimony, the photo and the flight characteristics - all of these point to a failure of the right engine at the worst possible time," he told The Missourian following the crash.

He added that with an engine failure of this type, it would be difficult for even the most experienced pilot to effectively and safely control the flight path.

The plane, carrying seven skydivers and the pilot, took a nosedive and struck a utility pole and trees before hitting the ground, according to Robb.

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Personal injury is an area of law that pertains to the injury of an individual. Both physical and emotional injuries fall into this branch of tort law. A personal injury lawyer is generally involved in cases where an injury has occurred due to the negligence of another party.

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Wrongful death falls under the common law jurisdictions wherein a person may be held liable for a death. It is important to note that wrongful death is the only course of legal action in which a company, rather than an individual, is at fault for a death.

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