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Second Lawsuit Filed Against Engine Maker in Plane Crash
Maggie Rotermund Missourian Staff Writer
Missourian
8/02/2006



A lawyer representing two families in their wrongful death lawsuit against the maker of the engines on the plane that crashed shortly after taking off from Sullivan Regional Airport last month, told The Missourian Tuesday that a picture taken of the plane corroborates eyewitness accounts of the events.

The suit was filed by Mark Cook and Annette Bachand, parents of Robert Cook, a 22-year-old University of Missouri-Rolla student who died in the July 29 crash that occurred shortly after takeoff.

Six of the eight people aboard, including the pilot, died in the crash.

The suit seeks 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 first suit was brought Aug. 2 by Vivian and Susan Delacroix of Kent, England, parents of Victoria Delacroix, 22.

The photo was taken with Delacroix’s camera, according to Gary Robb, of Robb and Robb LLC.

Robb said when Delacroix’s body and belongings were shipped to England, her mother discovered a digital camera. Robb suggested looking at the images, which is when the photo was discovered.

“Her mother couldn’t believe what she was seeing,” he said.

Delacroix was set to make her first jump on Saturday, July 29. She asked a friend to take her camera and photograph it for her.

Robb said the friend, who wishes not to be identified at this time, took the shot of the takeoff before dropping the camera in shock.

“She couldn’t think to take another picture,” he said. “Frankly, I’m amazed she managed to hold the camera still after she realized what was happening.”

Robb said Delacroix and her friend, Kimberly Dear, were so excited to take their first jump that they leapt to the front of the line, sending their photographer friend back. Delacroix’s actions put her friend on the next plane.

Dear, 21, of Australia, survived the crash.

The suits name Pratt & Whitney, maker of the two turboprop engines on the DeHavilland DHC-6 Twin Otter plane, as the main defendant.

Also named are United Technologies, as well as Quantum Leap, the airport, engine maintenance companies, the plane’s owner, and pilot Scott Cowan, who also died in the crash. But Robb said, “If it is confirmed that there was substantial engine power loss just after takeoff, then the pilot is totally blameless.”

The photo shows flames near the propeller on the right wing, a trail of smoke pouring behind it. The plane is perhaps 30 feet off the ground, the runway still below it.

Robb said his ongoing investigation has found Quantum Leap to be one of the best skydiving operations in the Midwest, with an excellent safety record.

“This photo is consistent with catastrophic and substantial engine failure,” Robb said. “The pilot was highly skilled and experienced – if he faced what we think he faced, it’s only because of his skill that anyone survived at all.”

Robb also credited Cowan with saving lives on the ground.

“His track record was excellent,” he added.

Jennifer Arsenault, a spokeswoman for Pratt & Whitney, said the company doesn’t discuss pending litigation.

Robb said that his clients will continue to keep their lawsuits separate legal petitions, but most likely will request a consolidation in the future.

“We won’t join the suits for trial, just for discovery purposes only,” Robb said.

In a preliminary report released Aug. 7, the National Transportation Safety Board didn’t speculate on a cause of the accident, but said inspectors have retained the engine and propellers for further examination. A final report isn’t expected for another six months, the NTSB said.

Robb said he has provided a copy of the photo to the NTSB.

Dear’s father, Bill Dear, credited Cook with saving his daughter’s life. He told an Australian TV station that when Cook realized the plane would crash, he pulled her close, allowing his body to take the full force of impact as the plane crashed and cushioning the impact on Dear.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 




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