Family files lawsuit in Dillingham air crash

Posted: Thursday, May 23, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Relatives of two people killed in a crash at the Dillingham airport in October have filed suit against PenAir, Cessna Aircraft and the estate of the dead pilot.

A complaint on behalf of Michael E. Grunert and his son, Samuel, says the Cessna Caravan that stalled after takeoff has design flaws that make it dangerous in icy weather. All 10 people on board the plane died in the crash.

Attorney Bob Wagstaff, himself a pilot, said the plane had been left out all night during an ice storm and improperly de-iced the next morning, Oct. 10, before attempting a flight to King Salmon.

The nine passengers killed included Carla Grunert, the wife and mother of the plaintiffs, and her 15-year-old son, Michael R. Grunert. The family is from Chignik Lagoon.

The complaint also blames pilot Gordon Mills for the crash, calling him unsuited by temperament to be a commercial pilot and insufficiently experienced flying a Caravan to carry passengers.

Asked to elaborate, Wagstaff said Mills had an ''impatient'' approach to flying. Once, in Bethel, he refused to wait for a plow and took off through dangerously deep snow, Wagstaff said.

In Dillingham, the excessively long ground run before the fatal takeoff should have told the pilot something was wrong, Wagstaff said.

''A Cessna Caravan aircraft normally requires 1,120 feet of ground roll to take off at gross weight under standard conditions,'' the suit says. ''The Caravan accident aircraft utilized virtually all of the 6,404 feet of the Dillingham runway in its takeoff run.''

Bob Richmond, attorney for PenAir, said the National Transportation Safety Board has not completed its investigation so the cause of the crash is not yet known.

Wagstaff's claims are ''only allegations with no basis in fact,'' Richmond said.

The suit was filed Tuesday in Dillingham Superior Court.

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