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3 Victims’ Relatives Given $10.2 Million by California Court

Rocky Mountain News
Thursday, July 8, 2003

A Southern California charter jet company must pay $10.2 million to families of three people killed in a 2001 plane crash at Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, a jury ruled Wednesday.

The plane was heading to a birthday party in Aspen the night of March 29, 2001, when it crashed on landing, killing two pilots, a flight attendant and 15 passengers. On Wednesday, Burbank-based Avjet Corp. was ordered to pay Lyle and Laurece Witham $4.25 million each for the death of their daughter, 22-year old Marissa Witham, a passenger.

The Company must also pay $1.7 million to Aurora Garcia, whose grandsons, Jose and Joseph Aguilar, were killed in the crash.

The jury also found sufficient evidence of wrongdoing to permit the two families to seek punitive damages against Avjet and the heirs of Robert Frisbie, who piloted the plane.

After a 14-month investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board ruled June 11, 2002, that pilot error was the probable cause of the crash.

Investigators found that the flight crew “made numerous procedural errors” while pushing forward with a landing – even though they lost sight of the runway in the darkness and light snowfall.

But amongst several contributing factors, they said the pilot and co-pilot were under pressure from the people who chartered the Gulfstream III jet to land on the first try in Aspen, rather than being forced to divert to an airport 50 miles away in Rifle.

The jurors were to return to court on Monday to hear evidence in the punitive phase of the trial.

Kathy Tinckert, a plaintiff spokeswoman, said she could not comment on the award because it was sealed after being read in open court.

Representatives of Avjet declined to comment.

The company, which leases private jets to celebrities, dignitaries and corporate movers and shakers, has settled cases with some of the other crash victims’s survivors.

Even in clear weather, the airport is one of the nation’s most challenging for pilots because of its mountainous setting and the steep descent required to land.

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