BEAUFORT, N.C. -- The families of five passengers killed in a 2022 plane crash off the North Carolina coast have settled wrongful death lawsuits against the companies that owned the plane and employed the pilot and the pilot's estate for $15 million, family representatives announced Friday.
All eight people aboard the Pilatus PC-12/47 died when it descended into the Atlantic Ocean off the Outer Banks. Four teenagers and two adults on the plane were returning from a hunting trip. The two others were the pilot and his adult son, who was a student pilot, the suit said.
Attorneys for the families filed dismissals in Carteret County on Thursday, reflecting that the companies that employed the pilot and owned the plane have paid $15 million, according to a news release.
The settling defendants are EDP Management Group and Green Assets, both of Wilmington, and the Estate of Ernest "Teen" Durwood Rawls, the pilot. The settlement was reached on behalf of the families of deceased passengers Noah Lee Styron, 16; Michael Daily Shepherd, 15; Jacob Nolan Taylor, 17; Jonathan Kole McInnis, 16; and Stephanie Fulcher, 42, the mother of McInnis. The four teenagers on board were all students at East Carteret High School.
Hunter Parks, 45, one of those killed in the crash, was the founder and chairman of Green Assets, according to the company's website. His family is not involved in the suits.
"The families filed these lawsuits to get answers and hold accountable the companies and individuals whose negligence led to this tragedy," Andrew C. Robb, a Kansas City-based aviation attorney who represented the families, said in a statement. "The families are grateful that this phase of their lawsuits has come to a close, and they will now continue the difficult process of trying to re-build their lives."
There was no immediate response to Associated Press emails seeking comment from attorneys representing EDP Management Group and Green Assets. The settlement does not affect claims against Dillon's Aviation of Greenville, which had performed maintenance on the plane, Robb said by telephone.
The plane took off Feb. 13 in the early afternoon from Hyde County Airport, which is on the mainland near the Pamlico Sound. The plane's destination was southwest across the sound to Beaufort, which is along the southern edge of the Outer Banks in Carteret County.
The suit filed in May alleged Rawls failed to maintain control over the plane and improperly flew into weather conditions with limited visibility that required the use of instrumentation. The suit also asserted that Rawls failed to maintain adequate communication with air traffic control and failed to avoid restricted military airspace, "leading to an erratic and irregular flight path."
The suit alleged Rawls improperly relied on a co-pilot with "inadequate training and experience" to fly around the restricted airspace and in those weather conditions. Rawls' son, Jeffrey Rawls, reportedly had 20 hours of flight experience, the suit stated. The suit also claimed Rawls failed to conduct a proper weight and balance evaluation before taking off.
The National Transportation Safety Board said in a preliminary accident report that the pilot had made no distress calls and no declarations of an emergency. The airplane had reached 4,700 feet (1,430 meters) and was climbing quickly, the NTSB's report stated. There was no response to calls from an air traffic controller, and radar contact was lost.
A final report from the NTSB has not been issued.
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