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Settlement Ends Aspen Jet Crash Lawsuit for $11.7 Million

Aspen Daily News
By Linda Deutch/AP Special Correspondent

LOS ANGELES – The families of three people among 18 killed in a charter jet crash in Aspen accepted $11.7 million Monday in a last-minute settlement with the plane’s operators.

The settlement of the lawsuit was revealed as a jury was about to begin the punitive phase of a trial in which the panel had already awarded the families $10.2 million in compensatory damages.

“This matter has been resolved,” Superior Court Judge Susan Bryan-Deeson told the jurors. “The parties have settled in total.”

The Gulfstream HI jet operated by Avjet Corp. of Burank, Calif, was carrying 15 passengers from the Los Angeles area to a birthday party and ski weekend when it hit a hillside on approach to Aspen airport on March 29, 2001. The passengers, pilot, co-pilot and flight attendant were killed.

Plaintiffs attorney Brian Panish said outside court that Avjet Corp. and the estate of pilot Robert Frisbie agreed to pay $9.5 million to the family of victim Marissa Witham and $2.2 million to the grandparents of two young men, Jose and Joseph Aguilar, who were also on the flight.

Witham was an intern at Fox television station KTTV in Los Angeles. Her parents said outside court that she had planned a career in television and hoped to become a news anchor.

“She was a perfect angel from birth,” said her tearful mother, Laurece Witham, who held a photograph of her 22-year-old daughter.

She said her daughter had asked permission of her parents to go on the trip and it was granted. Her father is a retired airline pilot and her brother is a pilot for Continental Express.

Asked if she was satisfied with the award, Laurece Witham said, “I would like to see Avjet go out of business. I would like to see no one fly Avjet ever again.”

Martin Rose, the attorney representing Avjet and the pilot’s estate, said he was pleased with the settlement. He said that all other cases brought by the families of the other victims had been settled.

“The crew was highly experienced,” he said. “They made some mistakes.”

Jury forewoman Vanessa Smith of Carson said the panel was surprised by the settlement and would have awarded more money if the case had continued.

During the trial, the plaintiffs attorney said two planes ahead of the jet tried the approach but turned away because visibility was bad. Avjet’s attorney said a cockpit voice recording showed the pilots discussed a curfew for landing at the airport after sunset and determined they had enough time.

The Gulfstream was operated by Avjet and registered to Airborne Charter Inc., which is owned by the movie company Cinergi Pictures Entertainment Inc.

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