Families of victims in White Pass plane crash sue Cessna

The families of nine skydivers killed when their plane crashed in Washington’s Cascade range have filed suit against Cessna Aircraft Co., claiming the aircraft-maker knew the plane performed poorly in icy conditions.

The lawsuits were filed separately in U.S. District Court in Seattle. Relatives of Ralph Abdo, who died in the Oct. 19 crash with eight other passengers and the pilot, were the latest to file suit on March 6.

The lawsuits seek punitive damages and other damages in excess of $25 million, alleging wrongful death.

The skydivers were returning to Western Washington from a weekend trip in Idaho when the Cessna Caravan 208 crashed into thick timber about 45 miles west of Yakima near the Goat Rocks Wilderness Area. A hunter in the crash area reported seeing the low-flying plane and said the engine seemed to be whining loudly, followed by silence.

A cold front had just swept through the area near White Pass where the plane went down. The Federal Aviation Administration had warned in recent years that pilots should avoid flying the Cessna Caravan 208 in many icy conditions after receiving reports that pilots had difficulty maintaining altitude and control of the aircraft during such conditions.

Dean Brett, a lawyer representing the families, said they hope to see that the airplane is decertified from flying into icy conditions.

“The plane operates fine in good weather, but because of its design characteristics, it should not be flown in icing conditions and should not be certified to do so,” Brett said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Brett’s firm has teamed with a Chicago firm, Nolan Law Group, which is handling several other lawsuits involving the aircraft. The cases have been consolidated and are in the discovery process in Kansas. Cessna is based in Wichita, Kan. Spokesman Doug Oliver said the company’s policy is not to comment on pending litigation.

A report on the crash has not yet been issued by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The plane was registered to Kapowsin Air Sports of Shelton, located near Olympia. The skydivers were affiliated with Skydive Snohomish, a company that operates a training school and skydiving flights at Harvey Field in Snohomish County, about 20 miles north of Seattle.

Killed in the crash with Abdo were Casey Craig, Hollie Rasberry, Michelle Barker, Landon Atkin, Jeff Ross, Cecil Elsner, Andrew Smith, Bryan Jones, and pilot Phil Kibler. All lived in Western Washington