Parker-Hannifin Settles Another Suit In Carnahan Crash

  Pays Father Of Third Victim $905,000
The father of one of three men who died in a Missouri plane crash more than three years ago has settled his lawsuit with vacuum-pump maker Parker-Hannifin. The amount of the settlement was $905,000.

Chris Sifford (right) was flying with Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan on board the Cessna 335 in rough IFR weather on October 16, 2000, when it went down near Hillsboro. Sifford's father, Dale, along with the Carnahans'  survivors, sued Parker-Hannifin, accusing the company of making vacuum pumps it knew were faulty even after they were cited in more than 20 crashes.

The NTSB accident report indicated there may indeed have been problems with the primary attitude display, but said that secondary instruments were probably functioning at the time of the crash.

While mechanical gyros have been used in aircraft for many years, there are a number of problems that make mechanical gyros less than ideal, and have driven the need for more accurate and reliable instruments. The first and foremost problem is long-term reliability. Because mechanical gyros are constructed with many moving parts with close tolerances, they break easily. As the ball bearings that support the high-speed wheel and the gimbals begin to wear, they contribute to precession errors. Compounding the issue with vacuum gyros, is that dirt and dust in the vacuum line that destroys the bearings. Another common problem is that long periods of inactivity can also cause the mechanical gyro to stop functioning altogether or reduce accuracy and increase drift rates. The recommended operating life of most mechanical gyros is only several hundred hours.

A second class of problems is the limited accuracy and resolution of most mechanical gyros. The design of the majority of mechanical gyros used in general aviation today was done in the 1950s or before, and the manufacturing techniques have not kept pace with technology. The result is limited accuracy and resolution, especially in dynamic maneuvers. Of course, all pilots know that if you do an aerobatic or other very aggressive maneuver the majority of mechanical gyros generally lose their mind and in some cases break!

  A second attitude indicator, however, was operating properly -- though located on the copilot's side of the panel. According to the report, it may have been difficult for pilot Randy Carnahan to read under the circumstances. The NTSB ruled the cause of the accident was Randy Carnahan's spatial disorientation and NOT any failure of a Parker-Hannifin product.

Gov Carnahan's Memorial

But a Jackson County (MO) jury disregarded that information and awarded Carnahan's survivors $4 million. Parker-Hannifin, however, said it was vindicated by the award, since the family had originally sought $100 million. The jury decided not to award punitive damages.

Dale Sifford's lawsuit was almost a mirror of the Carnahan suit, saying the dual vacuum system in the Cessna 335 failed, causing the crash. His lawyer, Kirk Presley, said the Carnahan family's suit prompted him to file on Sifford's behalf.

The judge hearing the case has decided not to set aside the Carnahan ruling.
Next week, he'll hear the family's request for a retrial on the issue of punitive damages.



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