Plane crash victims' kin sue Brother says makers of aircraft's part to blame for deaths

April 18, 1997|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

An article that appeared Friday in the Carroll County edition incorrectly stated that a small plane that crashed in Eldersburg in 1995 was trying to land at Wolf Airport. Witnesses said the pilot did not appear to be attempting a landing.

The Sun regrets the error.

The brother of a Hampstead woman who died from injuries suffered in a plane crash in Eldersburg two years ago claims that the aircraft's defective carburetor was responsible for the accident that killed four, according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

John H. Pettie Jr., whose sister Angela A. Pownell, 29, survived the April 7, 1995, crash but later died from her injuries, is seeking unspecified damages against several companies involved in the manufacture and sale of the carburetor.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

James and Amelia Thomas of Laurel, whose daughter, Nancy Thomas, 19, was killed in the crash, are also plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed last week.

"There were things that were wrong with the plane and had they not been wrong, it's more than likely that my sister would still be around," Pettie said.

Pownell, a nursing student at the University of Maryland, was one of four people on board the Cessna 172 aircraft when it crashed in the front yard of an Eldersburg house while trying to land at nearby Wolf Airport.

The pilot, Jeffrey Burbridge, 44, and Thomas, who was a front-seat passenger, died immediately in the crash. Passenger Robert Woods, 43, of Baltimore died from his injuries several hours later.

Pownell was critically injured in the crash, and died six months later at Long View Nursing Home in Manchester.

In his lawsuit, Pettie claims that a defective carburetor caused the Cessna engine to malfunction. Named as defendants in the lawsuit are nine companies in Washington, Virginia, Oklahoma and Illinois that are identified as being involved in the design, sale and repair of the carburetor.

At Facet International in Tulsa, Okla., a spokesman said that defendant Facet Enterprises had been sold several years ago. At Borg Warner Automotive, a Chicago company named as a defendant, a spokeswoman said that the carburetor manufacturing division was sold in 1982. Attempts to reach the other defendants named in the lawsuit were unsuccessful.

The suit alleges that the defendants knew before the plane crash that the carburetor on the aircraft was defective and that the accompanying maintenance and repair instructions were inadequate.

The same type of carburetor has been the subject of legal actions in other fatal plane crashes, according to the lawsuit.

"We're alleging that there was a problem with the plane's carburetor and that it was a factor in the crash," said Robert D. Ahlstrom, the plaintiffs' attorney.

Ahlstrom said that his clients originally filed the lawsuit in June in Prince George's County Circuit Court. He filed the case in Baltimore federal court because the action now involves out-of-state defendants.

According to the lawsuit, defects in the carburetor's design stemmed from the screws and locking mechanism that held the carburetor halves together. The suit maintains that the defendants did not provide appropriate instructions to aircraft service facilities for installation and repair of the carburetor.

Despite knowledge of numerous problems associated with the carburetor since 1989, the suit states that the defendants failed to inform the Federal Aviation Administration about the severity of the problems.

The Eldersburg crash occurred about 5: 30 p.m. in the Oklahoma Estates development. The aircraft tried to land at Wolf Airport before its nose hit a front yard in the 1900 block of Stillwater Road.

The plane had left Hayes Field in Clarksville, Howard County, about 4 p.m. The pilot, Burbridge, taught aviation ground school at Catonsville Community College.

Pub Date: 4/18/97

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