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February 11, 2003 - Crash Victim's Estate Files Lawsuit

DAYTON, Ohio -- A federal lawsuit was filed Monday on behalf of the estate of a Dayton man killed along with 20 other passengers on Jan. 8 when their commuter plane crashed.

The plane hit an airport hangar and burst into flames while departing Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the estate of Forrest Stephen DeMartino, 48, by his spouse, Rebecca Edgerton, claims that the US Airways Express Flight 5481 may have been improperly loaded and repaired prior to departure.

In addition to US Airways, others named as defendants in the lawsuit are Mesa Air Group Inc. of Reno, Nev.; Air Midwest Inc. of Topeka, Kan.; and Raytheon Co. of Wilmington, Del.

US Airways and the other defendants could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit claims that on Jan. 6, the Beech 1900D Turbo Prop Aircraft was taken to the Tri-State Airport in Huntington-Kenova, W. Va., for maintenance and repair of the aircraft elevator control, elevator trim and pitch control system at a center operated by Raytheon.

"On all aircraft flights utilizing the Beech 1900D Turbo Prop Aircraft during the time period between the completion of the maintenance on Jan. 6 and the time of the accident on Jan. 8, the elevator and elevator control mechanisms continue to malfunction and their malfunction was recorded by the aircraft's" digital flight data recorder, the lawsuit claims.

The lawsuit further claims that at the time of departure for Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C., "the aircraft was loaded with passengers, baggage and cargo to a weight that may have exceeded its maximum take-off weight and created weight and balance problems for the aircraft."

It was the deadliest U.S. air accident in nearly 14 months.

DeMartino, a 1976 University of Dayton graduate employed as off-site manager by Woolpert LLP in Dayton, had been on a business trip to software maker Datastream Systems Inc.

Jonathan Ornstein, chief executive of Mesa Airlines, which owns Air Midwest, said the plane was about 8 years old and had 15,000 hours of flight time and 21,000 takeoffs and landings, according to The Associated Press.

According to FAA records, the aircraft reported service difficulties 10 times. In November, the company reported a leaking fuel pump, which was replaced. In May, the plane's left main landing gear wouldn't retract as it was taking off; it landed safely and the problem was fixed. Other problems were minor, including a stuck light switch, cracks on a flap and chafing on brackets that attached a flap, according to the AP story.

Mesa Airlines operates in the East and Midwest as US Airways Express, in the West and Midwest as America West Express, in Denver as Frontier JetExpress, in New Mexico as Mesa Airlines and in Kansas City with Midwest Airlines.

The lawsuit, filed by the law firm of Waite, Schneider, Bayless & Chesley Co., L.P.A., seeks an unspecified amount in damages.

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