April 24, 2013

Nine companies blamed in fatal Maine plane crash

A lawsuit says negligence led to an engine problem, which led to the pilot's death and the destruction of a house.

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – The children of a highly decorated, retired Air Force pilot who died when his civilian plane crashed in Biddeford two years ago, and the couple whose home was destroyed by the crash, are jointly suing the companies that maintained and inspected the plane.

click image to enlarge

In this 2011 file photo, firefighters extinguish a blaze on Granite Street in Biddeford after a plane crashed into a home. The children of a highly decorated, retired Air Force pilot who died when his civilian plane crashed in Biddeford two years ago, and the couple whose home was destroyed by the crash, are jointly suing the companies that maintained and inspected the plane.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

Edward L'Hommedieu, 71, of North Yarmouth was flying alone in the twin-engine Cessna 402B on April 10, 2011, as he approached Biddeford Municipal Airport at an altitude of about 500 feet when the plane lost partial or total power in its right engine.

The plane rapidly lost altitude and was going too slowly to stay aloft, says the lawsuit filed April 9 in Cumberland County Superior Court.

"L'Hommedieu, as an experienced pilot, would have understood that the aircraft was going to crash and that he was almost certain to die in such a crash," says the lawsuit.

The plane crashed into the home of Stephen and Kim Myers at 235 Granite St., near the Biddeford Municipal Airport, then "caught fire and became engulfed completely in flames," the lawsuit says.

"L'Hommedieu was alive and conscious subsequent to the crash" and "suffered severe and excruciating pain and discomfort prior to his death" as the plane and the house burned, the 13-page lawsuit says.

Lance Walker of the Portland law firm Norman, Hanson and DeTroy sued on behalf of L'Hommedieu's children, E. Chris L'Hommedieu and Heather Perreault, as representatives of his estate, and on behalf of the Myerses, seeking damages in a five-count complaint.

The lawsuit names as defendants nine companies that manufactured parts or maintained or inspected L'Hommedieu's plane.

"These are all companies that each did engine overhauls or they did what is called annuals, which are inspections for airworthiness," Walker said Tuesday. "When they certified it, they are certifying that it is airworthy. It's a heavy burden."

The companies are Ram Aircraft L.P. of Texas, McCauley Propeller Systems of Georgia, Maine Aviation Sales Inc. of Portland, Aircraft Maintenance of Maine Inc. of Portland, Yankee Aviation Services Inc. of Massachusetts, New England Propeller Service Inc. of Connecticut, Engine Component International Inc. of Texas, Champion Aerospace LLC of Delaware and Tom's Aircraft Maintenance Inc. of California.

Ron Caruso, president of Aircraft Maintenance of Maine, said his company did maintenance on the plane but did not work on the engine. He said his other company named in the lawsuit, Maine Aviation Sales, had no connection to the plane.

"We didn't do anything wrong," Caruso said. "We never inspected the part in question."

Caruso said he isn't surprised that his companies are named as defendants, because it is standard procedure in such lawsuits to name all of the companies that worked on a plane.

Representatives of Yankee Aviation, New England Propeller Service, Engine Components International and Tom's Aircraft said they had not been served with the lawsuit and declined comment. Phone messages left with Ram Aircraft and McCauley Propeller were not returned. No one answered the phone in several calls to Champion Aerospace.

Walker said the Myerses' home was insured and their insurance carrier is seeking to recoup its losses of as much as $500,000, claiming negligence.

L'Hommedieu's children are seeking an amount of money to be determined by a jury, claiming that their father's death was wrongful, that it was caused by negligence and that he suffered as a result.

The National Transportation Safety Board investigated the crash and determined in May 2012 that a combination of engine trouble and pilot error caused the crash.

L'Hommedieu's plane, built in 1977, lost power on a return trip from White Plains, N.Y., because O-rings in the engine throttle and control assembly were not properly installed, the NTSB found. The report is not admissible evidence in the lawsuit.

Walker said L'Hommedieu's children and the Myerses sued together because they agreed that pilot error was not an issue and that negligence in maintaining and inspecting the plane was the cause of the crash.

"The NTSB reports fairly frequently attribute at least partial responsibility to the pilot," Walker said. "In this case, we don't believe that was true. His airspeed and altitude were too low. He didn't have time to react."

On the day of the crash, L'Hommedieu flew from the Portland International Jetport to pick up a passenger on the island of Nantucket in Massachusetts, flew the passenger to Westchester County Airport in New York and then flew back to Biddeford, where he hoped to have dinner with a friend who lived nearby, according to the lawsuit.

L'Hommedieu began flying as a teenager, and joined the Air Force in 1964, flying B-52s and, later, FB-111s. During his 20-year Air Force career, he earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses, 12 Air Medals, the Cross of Gallantry and the Meritorious Service Medal.

He was a master navigator, a flight instructor and chief of operations and maintenance, according to the lawsuit.

 

Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:

sdolan@pressherald.com

 

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