Learjet cleared of blame in Payne Stewart crash

 - October 9, 2006, 10:20 AM

The six-woman jury in a wrongful-death trial ruled last month that Bombardier’s Learjet subsidiary should not be held accountable for the death of professional golfer Payne Stewart, his agent and the four others who were killed on Oct. 25, 1999, in the crash of their chartered Learjet 35.

The families of Stewart and his agent alleged that the accident was caused by a broken outflow valve, which resulted in decompression and the escape of cabin air as the jet climbed to its cruising altitude. The NTSB concluded there was a loss of cabin pressurization “for undetermined reasons.”

The families were seeking $200 million. Lawyers for Learjet told the jury that the aircraft, chartered from now-defunct Sunjet Aviation, lost pressure some other way and that the crash caused the damage to the valve.

Controllers lost communication with the jet soon after it took off from Orlando, Fla., on a planned flight to Dallas. The jet flew on for about four hours, all aboard presumably unconscious, until it ran out of fuel and crashed in a field in South Dakota.

A spokesman for Bombardier told AIN, “We are pleased with the outcome of this trial, and we are sympathetic to the losses suffered by the families of those killed, but while the accident was certainly a tragedy, it was not caused by Learjet. Bombardier and Learjet are committed to continuing to design and build safe and superior business jets.”

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