OWLS HEAD, Maine — Insurance companies, for the driver of a pickup truck that collided with an airplane and the company he worked for, are paying the bulk of a nearly $4 million settlement over the crash that claimed the lives of the three young men aboard the plane.
Knox County’s share of the $3,950,000 settlement was $15,000, which the county’s attorney Peter Marchesi said shows the county was not at fault in the tragedy.
Marchesi said a marathon mediation session was held on Sept. 4 in Portsmouth, N.H., with attorneys and insurance representatives for all the parties involved. The deal hammered out during that mediation resulted in the combined settlement for the estates of the young men. He said the three estates will then determine how much money each estate will get.
The Nov. 16 crash at the Knox County Regional Airport claimed the lives of two University of Maine students and a UMaine alumnus. Killed were Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity president David Cheney, 22, of Beverly, Mass.; the fraternity’s education officer, Marcelo Rugini, 24, of Muliterno, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil; and pilot William “BJ” Hannigan, 24, of South Portland, an engineering graduate student and member of the Maine Air National Guard.
Marchesi said the bulk of the settlement came from the automobile insurance policy held by Stephen Turner, 62, of Camden and the insurance held by Penobscot Island Air. Turner, who was a pilot and worked for Penobscot Air, was crossing the runway in his pickup truck when he struck the plane that was taking off on the main runway.
The insurance company for the flying club in Bangor of which Hannigan was a member also paid out part of the settlement, Marchesi said.
Turner told an investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board that he announced over the common traffic advisory frequency for aircraft that he planned to cross the runway. He said he heard no response and didn’t see anything on the 5,000-foot-long Runway 31, so he proceeded to cross.
“He subsequently saw something grayish in color, continued to cross the runway, and then got out to inspect what he saw at which time he observed an airplane attempting to climb,” NTSB safety investigator Shawn Etcher wrote in his preliminary report. “He continued watching the airplane drift to the left of the runway and make a left turn as if attempting to return to the airport. Subsequently, the airplane was then observed in slow flight, and then it began to spin.”
The plane then went nose-down into the woods about 2,200 feet from where the truck and plane collided on the runway, according to the federal agency’s preliminary report. A final report has not yet been completed.
Pieces of both the right elevator and the right rear stabilizer from the Cessna 172 single-engine plane were found on the runway near the site where the collision occurred. The truck had minor damage on the front and immediately was impounded as part of the investigation. Pieces of the truck’s headlights and plastic grill also were found on the runway.
Following the crash, the estates of each of the young men filed claims against various parties including Knox County, saying the county was negligent for, among other things, allowing a motor vehicle on the runway with inadequate lighting and other defects. The notices also claimed that the county failed to adopt and enforce safety rules, failed to properly train people who use the airport facilities, and that the runways were not properly designed or managed.
Marchesi said Monday, however, that the settlement shows the county was not at fault.
“I’ve been involved in this case from the day after the crash and I can say that the county essentially had done everything the FAA had recommended,” Marchesi said. “For a small, nontowered airport, this is nothing short of exemplary.”
He said the FAA regularly issues circulars to airports on safety regulations and the county has followed those recommendations.
Efforts to reach Turner Monday afternoon were unsuccessful.
Kevin Waters, the founder of Penobscot Island Air, said his insurance company got snared in the matter because Turner is an employee of the company and the company’s insurance covers employees’ use of their private vehicles.
Waters said he has a lot of different feelings about the settlement, but foremost he realizes that it was a tremendous tragedy that resulted in the deaths of three young men.