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Marianas Airline Sued Over Fatal Plane Crash in CNMI
As plaintiffs call for jury trial, no comment from company

By Andrew O. De Guzman

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Nov. 29, 2012) – Star Marianas Air Inc. has been sued in Superior Court by four passengers who were hurt in a plane crash on Runway 26 at the Tinian International Airport on May 7, 2012. The complaint cited "mechanical/engine failure" in mid-air as the cause of the crash.

The plane, Star Marianas’ Cherokee number N4127R, was en route to Saipan, and the passengers had just attended the San Jose Fiesta annual celebration of Tinian’s patron saint, St. Joseph.

According to the 16-page complaint submitted by the plaintiffs’ attorney Ramon K. Quichocho, the Commonwealth Ports Authority released information to the media and "misrepresented that ‘[i]t was a Star Marianas plane coming in with a flat tire,’"

Star Marianas immediately terminated the employment of the pilot, Jacob McHenry, after the May 7 crash landing, the complaint added.

Aside from Star Marianas, and McHenry, the plaintiffs named 10 Does as defendants.

Quichocho represents Jesus S. Cabrera, Roman U. Maratita, Brinae Jessilyn M. Cruz, a minor represented by Rep. Janet U. Maratita, and Kayhana Faith C. Manglona, a minor represented by Janae M. Cabrera. The plaintiffs want a jury trial.

Sought for comment, Star Marianas legal counsel Timothy Bellas told Variety: "I have contacted my client and the company does not wish to comment on this document," referring to the complaint.

CPA had yet to respond to inquiries of this reporter.

On May 5, 2012, Quichoho said, his clients flew from Saipan to Tinian on a Star Marianas aircraft to attend the annual celebration of Tinian’s patron saint, San Jose.

At 4 p.m. on May 7, the plaintiffs boarded a 1968 Piper PA-32-300 Cherokee 6-seat, owned and operated by Star Marianas, from Tinian to return to Saipan. The Cherokee was piloted by McHenry.

Cabrera and Brinae were seated in the middle portion of the Cherokee while Maratita and Kayhana were seated in the back seats.

The fifth passenger, who was not identified in the complaint, was seated in the co-pilot seat of the plane.

"As soon as the pilot started the engine, the Cherokee started to taxi out to the runway, without the pilot giving any safety briefing at all," the complaint stated.

The Cherokee took off, and while "at least 200 feet in the air, the Cherokee engine died, due to negligent piloting, operation, maintenance and/or control," the complaint said.

In a footnote, Quichocho said, "Whether the engine failure was due to the pilot’s failure to switch the fuel tank or negligence or faulty maintenance is hard to ascertain at this point because the Commonwealth Ports Authority negligently turned over the Cherokee to the control, possession, and custody of Star Marianas immediately after it was towed away from the crash site."

McHenry, the pilot, "attempted to restart the engine but it did not start."

"The Cherokee then suddenly and violently dropped several feet once, then suddenly and violently dropped twice and made a crash landing on Tinian’s Runway 26," the complaint said.

"The Cherokee landed hard with its tail hitting the runway and the Cherokee bounced at least twice on the runway, causing severe damage to the front tire, the left tire, the rim had collapsed and was bent toward the right, the left and right gear struts pierced the left and right wings, and hydraulic spillage was observed on the runway," the complaint said.

Quichocho said "[w]while the pilot was cussing, Ms. Maratita, Brinae, and Kayhana were screaming and crying in fear, and clearly everyone was severely traumatized."

Cabrera "violently hit his head on the roof" of the Cherokee causing severe neck pain and other internal pain, distress, and suffering, the complaint said.

Maratita "violently hit parts of her body" causing severe body aches, pains, and headaches, the complaint said.

Brinae "violently hit her shoulder" causing severe pain, the complaint said.

"Because she is very young, Kayhana has not been able to completely articulate her pain and suffering as a result of the violent and hard landing," the complaint added.

Quichocho said all of his clients "have been clearly traumatized and suffered severe emotional distress and [developed a] fear of flying."

"During the ordeal, the pilot failed to warn passengers to hold on or brace for the crash landing. The pilot failed to make a distress call, until everyone deplaned on their own, then the pilot used his cell phone to report the crash," Quichocho said.

"The CPA’s emergency response team did not immediately respond to the crash," Quichocho added.

The victims "were transported from the crash site to the terminal on a hazardous material vehicle."

CPA ports police and Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting personnel interviewed the pilot and one of the five passengers, "but absolutely failed to interview any of the plaintiffs," Quichocho said.

"As a proximate result of the negligence of defendants and the crash landing, plaintiffs have suffered nightmares since May 7, 2012, and they continue to have flashbacks, nightmares, and fear of ever getting on an airplane again," Quichocho said.

On May 8, the plaintiffs proceeded to Saipan by boat and were later examined by their doctors and prescribed medication.

On May 9, the plaintiffs through Quichocho, wrote a letter to CPA regarding the "misreporting, the premature turnover of the Cherokee to Star Marianas, and a request to allow inspection and to photograph the Cherokee and the crash site, and a request for any reports of investigation, but it was too late because CPA had turned over the Cherokee to Star Marianas without completing its investigation. Needless to say, CPA did not respond to the request."

On or about July 16, 2012, Star Marianas’ Cherokee number N4599X made an emergency landing due to "engine mixture of gas and water," and the engine was "choking" in midair, according to the complaint.

On Nov. 16, 2012, Star Marianas’ Cherokee number N4599X had a flat tire before takeoff at the Tinian Airport, the complaint said.

On Nov. 19, 2012, Star Marianas’ Cherokee number N4267R crashed at the Saipan Airport leaving one passenger dead, five in critical condition, "including Star Marianas’ best pilot," and one with minor physical injuries, the complaint added.

As a proximate result of the negligence of defendants, and the resulting crash, Quichocho said his clients were "seriously injured and experienced conscious pain and suffering, and thus seek recovery thereof," adding plaintiffs have incurred medical and other expenses, and thus seek recovery thereof.

Quichocho said his clients are invoking the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur (the thing speaks for itself) against Star Marianas; negligent training and supervision of personnel; and willful misconduct.

Maratita, and Cabrera are suing Star Marianas for loss of consortium.

Cabrera and Maratita have been living together like husband and wife for over 20 years. Before sustaining the injuries alleged above, Maratita and Cabrera were able to and did perform all the duties of a husband and wife, including assisting in maintaining the home and taking care of the family, the complaint stated.

All plaintiffs are suing the defendants for negligent maintenance and inspection of aircraft.

Quichocho said his clients are asking for a judgment against defendants, jointly and severally, for actual, general, compensatory, and consequential damages in an amount to be proven at trial; for medical expenses; for loss of earnings; for punitive damages, in an amount appropriate "to punish defendants and set an example to others," to be proven at trial; for such other damages as plaintiffs can show; for attorney’s fees and costs; for pre- and post-judgment interest; for such other and further relief to which plaintiffs are entitled under law or equity as the court deems just and proper.

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