Oregon family sues airplane kit maker after fatal crash kills girl, four

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 20, 2015 7:42 PM

By Shelby Sebens

PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) - The family of a 4-year-old girl who died when the home-built airplane her grandfather was flying crashed in Oregon last year has sued the plane's build-it-yourself kit maker for $35 million, attorneys said on Tuesday.

The family of Zoey Wahl argued in the lawsuit, filed last week in Salem's Marion County Circuit Court, that the instructions for the airplane kits and the parts themselves provided by Van's Aircraft Inc and Floscan Instrument Co Inc are inadequate and unsafe.

"These kit aircrafts are dangerous and the lack of specifications are dangerous," the family's attorney, Matthew Clarke, said in an interview. "There's no way for people like this family - I'm talking about the mother and daughter - to know about the potential for these problems."

Wahl, 4, and her grandfather, 51-year-old Douglas Nebert, of Newport, Oregon, who was flying the plane that he built, died in the May 2014 crash in Toledo, which occurred shortly after the plane took off. Wahl's mother was severely injured in the accident but survived. 

The National Transportation Safety Board ruled the cause of the accident as a loss of engine power due to fuel starvation because of a blocked fuel line.

The blocked fuel line was caused, the NTSB said, by the pilot's "improper maintenance practices and the pilot's subsequent failure to maintain adequate airspeed while attempting a forced landing."

The family alleges that the installation specifications provided by Oregon-based Van's Aircraft for the "fuel flow transducer" are inadequate and did not include a bypass to prevent the blockage, leaving the plane prone to failure.

The lawsuit also says that Van's Aircraft misleads consumers into believing they can follow the company's specifications to safely construct the aircraft without having proper mechanical experience or training.

Scott Risan, Van's president and general manager, said the homebuilt airplane kit maker stands by its product and that roughly 9,000 kit-made planes sold by the company are currently flying.

"We do a really good job with the safety of the airplanes," Risan said in an interview. "It's up to the builder to use good judgment when they are building and maintaining the airplane. The lawsuit seems to be kind of attacking the industry in general and that's unfortunate."

Officials with Floscan, located in Washington state, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Shelby Sebens; Editing by Eric M. Johnson and Eric Beech)