Woman sues dead pilot for plane crash allegedly caused by drunken passenger

Story highlights

  • Melissa Schram alleges pilot Damon York was negligent in a small-plane crash
  • Her husband, Edward Sam, was among those killed in the crash, along with York
  • Schram says York allowed a drunken passenger on the plane
  • An investigation determined it is likely a passenger pushed York's seat forward
A Canadian woman whose common-law husband died in a plane crash after a drunken passenger allegedly kicked the pilot's seat forward, jamming him into the instrument panel, is suing the estate of the dead pilot in a British Columbia court.
The lawsuit alleges Damon York, 33, pilot of the Cessna plane, violated Canadian aviation regulations by allowing the drunken passenger to board his flight. In a Transportation Safety Board of Canada accident report, investigators said the intoxicated passenger most likely "kicked the pilot's seatback forward and held it there" until the plane hit the water.
An autopsy found the passenger's ankles were broken on impact, suggesting she was kicking the pilot's seat forward, the board said. The Transportation Safety Board is the Canadian equivalent of the United States' National Transportation Safety Board.
York had a broken wrist and other injuries that investigators believe resulted from the pilot trying to free himself to regain control of the plane as it plummeted, according to the report.
Killed were passengers Edward Sam, 28, his sister Katrina Sam-English, 22, his cousin Samantha Mattersdorfer, 24, who allegedly kicked the pilot's seat, and York.
In the lawsuit, Sam's widow, Melissa Schram, alleges York and the company he worked for were grossly negligent because the pilot's seat was so easily shoved forward when Mattersdorfer kicked it. Additionally, Schram's suit claims that because of improper training the pilot failed to maintain calm during an emergency situation.
Schram is seeking compensation for loss of support, loss of inheritance, loss of companionship and loss of household assistance.
The Cessna-185F floatplane nose-dived into the ocean near Vancouver Island in May 2010. Floatplanes look like traditional aircraft but are modified with pontoons allowing water landings.
Investigators say all three passengers had been drinking heavily on the day of the crash when they chartered York's flight to return home.
The three passengers were members of the Ahousaht First Nation and the reservation they lived on doesn't permit alcohol. The passengers attempted to make their trip via boat, but a water taxi operator refused to take them to the reservation because they had alcohol in their baggage.
When investigators located the floatplane wreckage on the ocean floor, beer cans were found near the passenger seats. Schram's attorneys claim York hadn't properly stowed the luggage, allowing the passengers to gain access to the alcohol they brought on board.
Witnesses told investigators that prior to departing, all three were able to walk and were coherent enough to argue about the price of the charter, according to the safety board's accident report.
According to CNN affiliate CTV, Vancouver has one of the largest floatplane flotillas in the world. Sixty-seven percent of victims killed in floatplane accidents die from drowning because they cannot exit the plane as it sinks, a CTV report said.
Canadian officials have recommended installing pop-out windows and quick-release doors on floatplanes, but those recommendations have never been enforced. The lawsuit targets the plane operator for failing to make the necessary changes to the floatplane.
Also named in the lawsuit are the company the pilot worked for, Atleo River Air Services, and the estate of Mattersdorfer.