Settlement reached in plane crash that killed Carnahan

Tuesday, July 9, 2002

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The families of the late Gov. Mel Carnahan, his son and a campaign aide reached a $1.6 million settlement Monday with Cessna Aircraft Co. over the October 2000 plane crash that killed the three men, a lawyer for the Carnahan family said.

But attorneys for the families of the governor, his pilot son Roger Carnahan and aide Chris Sifford will proceed with their lawsuits against several other defendants, including the maker of what the plaintiffs claim was a faulty piece of pilot guidance equipment.

The settlement between the families, Cessna Aircraft Co. of Wichita, Kan., and its parent company, Textron Inc., was approved by Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Charles E. Atwell.

The claim against Cessna asserted that the aircraft maker knew of problems with the vacuum system and failed to issue timely service bulletins about the equipment. The Carnahan family believes "that the separate settlement with Cessna is reasonable for what Cessna did," said attorney Gary Robb, who represents the Carnahan family.

The settlement calls for $800,000 to be awarded to the survivors of Mel Carnahan, and for $400,000 apiece be awarded to the families of Roger Carnahan and Sifford, said C.H. Parsons Jr., the Dexter attorney for Sifford's father, Dale.

Cessna spokeswoman Jessica Myers said Monday that the findings of a National Transportation Safety Board investigation were considered "favorable to Cessna." The NTSB concluded that Roger Carnahan suffered disorientation and lost control of his Cessna 335, causing the plane to crash Oct. 16, 2000.

NTSB investigators concluded that the primary attitude indicator, a crucial instrument that reports a plane's position in the air, was not displaying properly at the time of impact.

Further, the lawsuits claim that three of the defendants knew the part had a history of failure but did not issue proper warnings. The vacuum pump powers both the gyroscope, which shows the plane's direction, and the artificial horizon, which helps the pilot maintain level flight.

Monday's settlement does not affect the case against other defendants named in the families' lawsuits: Aeroflite Inc. of Poplar Bluff, which serviced the plane less than a month before the crash; Parker-Hannifin Corp. of Ohio, maker of the vacuum pump system; and Sigma Tek Inc. of Wichita, maker of the gyroscopic equipment. Mid-Continent Instrument Company Inc. and Autopilots Central Inc. were added later to the lawsuit.

"The NTSB report clarified that while Cessna merely placed the failed part in the plane, the failed part had been designed and known to be defective by Hannifin," Robb said.

Parker Hannifin officials have said that the NTSB had found "none of Parker's components" on the plane caused the accident.

The Democratic governor was running against GOP Sen. John Ashcroft in the U.S. Senate race, and his plane took off from St. Louis in darkness, rain and fog that night. Carnahan, 66, Randy Carnahan and Sifford, 37, were traveling to a campaign stop in New Madrid in southeast Missouri.

Mel Carnahan was elected posthumously by Missouri voters and his wife, Jean Carnahan, was appointed to serve a two-year term. She's seeking election to serve the remaining four years of the term. Republican Jim Talent, a former congressman, will likely be her opponent in the November election.

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