Lawsuits Filed in Deadly Seaplane Accident Near Seattle

Wrongful death litigation alleges the accident that killed 9 passengers in September 2022 was ‘entirely preventable.’

The De Havilland DHC-3 Turbine Otter (similar to the aircraft here) was on a flight between Friday Harbor Seaplane Base and Renton Municipal Airport at the time of the accident. [Credit: Stephen Yeates]

Several lawsuits have been filed over the loss of a seaplane near Seattle last September that killed nine passengers and the pilot. 

The 1967 De Havilland DHC-3 Turbine Otter operated by Northwest Seaplanes—a Part 135 operation in Renton, Washington—was on a flight between Friday Harbor Seaplane Base (W33) and Renton Municipal Airport (KRNT) at the time of the accident.

According to the Seattle Times, three lawsuits were filed Thursday in King County Superior Court naming Northwest Seaplanes and De Havilland Aircraft of Canada as defendants.

Representatives for the estates of Sandra Williams, Joanne Mera, Gabrielle Hanna, and Lauren Hilty and her unborn son, Luca, filed a wrongful death lawsuit alleging that the accident was "entirely preventable" and both the seaplane operator and aircraft manufacturer are liable for damages.

A second lawsuit was filed on behalf of passengers Rebecca and Luke Ludwig, and a third filed for passengers Ross Mickel and his son, Remy Mickel.

The accident happened on September 4, 2022, on the pilot’s second flight of the day. According to witnesses, the aircraft was flying over the Puget Sound when it suddenly pitched down sharply and went nose-first into the water off Whidbey Island.

According to a tweet from Flightradar24, the last ADS-B signal from the aircraft was received at 22:08 UTC, and the aircraft was showing a descent of 7,744 fpm. The altitude normally flown by Turbine Otters along this route is approximately 600 feet. There were no reports of distress calls from the aircraft.

The body of a woman was immediately pulled from the water by good Samaritans. Very little wreckage was found on the surface immediately following the impact and what was pulled from the water was heavily fragmented.

It took more than a week for search teams using specialized sonar equipment to locate the rest of the aircraft on the bottom of the Puget Sound and another two weeks for the wreckage to be retrieved from the water.

As previously reported in FLYING, on October 24, 2022, the National Transportation Safety Board released a 10-page preliminary report on the accident.

Per the NTSB report, during the examination of the airplane wreckage, investigators found that the clamp nut that attaches the top eye end and bearing assembly of the horizontal stabilizer actuator to the actuator barrel had unscrewed from the barrel. The examination also found that the circular wire lock ring—designed to prevent the clamp nut from unscrewing—was not present. If the actuator barrel and the clamp nut are not secured together and become separated, the actuator would not be able to control the position of the horizontal stabilizer, resulting in a reduction or loss of pitch control.

In response to the findings, the NTSB issued an urgent safety recommendation to the FAA and Transport Canada that all operators of De Havilland Canada DHC-3s to “conduct an immediate one-time inspection of the horizontal stabilizer actuator lock ring in accordance with the instructions in the Viking Air Limited service letter and report their findings to the FAA and Transport Canada, respectively.”

The NTSB has not yet released the final report on the accident.

Meg Godlewski has been an aviation journalist for more than 24 years and a CFI for more than 20 years. If she is not flying or teaching aviation, she is writing about it. Meg is a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture and excels at the application of simulation technology to flatten the learning curve. Follow Meg on Twitter @2Lewski.

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