Widows of four American men killed in Victoria’s worst air disaster in 30 years are expected to pursue millions of dollars in damages against the pilot’s estate after he was blamed for the tragedy.
Pilot Max Quartermain crashed shortly after take-off as he flew four passengers on a golfing holiday from Essendon Airport to King Island on February 21 last year.
An aviation watchdog probe on Monday found Mr Quartermain failed to complete checklists before take-off that would have detected the plane’s rudder trim was in nose-left position.
This hampered the Beechcraft King Air aircraft’s ability to ascend and after about 10 seconds of being airborne, it plunged into a nearby DFO shopping centre.
Two people on the ground received minor injuries and everyone aboard was killed.
Now the widows of the passengers – Greg Reynolds De Haven, Glenn Garland, Russell Munsch and John Washburn – are expected to pursue potentially millions of dollars in damages.
“For more than 12 months our heartache has been accompanied by painful questions,” they said in a statement.
“Today we finally get some answers to those questions, but the heartache will last forever.
“We are all still coming to terms with the loss of our loved ones and the impact it has had on the lives of so many other people – sons, daughters, parents and friends.
“While today’s report is welcome, nothing will bring back the people we all loved so dearly.”
Lawyer Paul Henderson, who is representing the widows, is advising them to take action against the civil aviation insurer – which caps damages at $270,000 – and the pilot’s estate.
“We hope the insurers of the carrier and pilot will take a conciliatory approach and seek to resolve these claims as soon as possible to avoid any further trauma to all families involved,” he said.
In a statement, the pilot’s wife said her thoughts were with the grieving families and she would write to them to express her sorrow.
“We are all grieving at this difficult time and my heart goes out to all the other widows in the US,” Cilla Quartermain said.
She said her husband had a successful 40-year aviation career, loved being a pilot and always cared about his passengers.
“I know in those terrifying final moments he would have been doing everything in his power to bring the plane safely back to the airport to save his passengers.”
The investigation found no pre-impact faults with the plane, which soared 49 metres above ground, before it began descending and crashed into the roof of the DFO.
The pilot had five missed opportunities before take-off to realise that the rudder trim, which helps control aircraft movement, was not in the neutral position it should have been.
“This accident and the loss of life of the pilot and four passengers in the view of the ATSB, could have been prevented had a checklist been followed thoroughly prior to take-off,” ATSB chief commissioner Greg Hood said.