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Published: Saturday, 12/23/2006

2 lawsuits cite engine in fatal 2004 air crash

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Steven DalPra and his family died when his plane crashed near the Gogebic-Iron County Airport in Michigan. Steven DalPra and his family died when his plane crashed near the Gogebic-Iron County Airport in Michigan.
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Two lawsuits were filed yesterday alleging that a faulty engine cylinder contributed to a plane crash in Michigan's upper peninsula that killed a Sylvania Township anesthesiologist and his family.

Dr. Steven DalPra; his wife, Colleen Morgan-DalPra, and their daughters, Elizabeth, 15; Rachele, 14, and Giovanna, 12, died Dec. 28, 2004, when the twin-engine plane piloted by Dr. DalPra crashed near Ironwood, Mich.

Separate wrongful-death lawsuits - one representing the estate of Dr. DalPra and another on behalf of his wife and their children - were filed in Lucas County Common Pleas Court by attorneys 90 minutes apart.

The complaints alleged that a defective cylinder in the left-wing engine of the 1977 Piper Aztec fractured during the flight, causing a loss of power, and contributed to the crash as Dr. DalPra was approaching the airport at Ironwood for an emergency landing.

The manufacturer of the engine components, Engine Components Inc. of San Antonio, was named as a defendant in both lawsuits.

The plaintiffs claim the loss of power in the engine triggered subsequent failures in other mechanical systems, including the vacuum, hydraulic, and propeller systems.

Steven DalPra in a family photo, clockwise from his right, are daughters Rachele and Giovanna, wife Colleen, and daughter Elizabeth.
Steven DalPra in a family photo, clockwise from his right, are daughters Rachele and Giovanna, wife Colleen, and daughter Elizabeth.
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The National Transportation Safety Board ruled in February that the failed engine cylinder and Dr. DalPra's subsequent failure to maintain adequate airspeed while attempting to land contributed to the crash.

The lawsuits also allege that a defective propeller and propeller assembly system contributed to the crash. The safety board said the pilot's failure to feather the propeller on the powerless engine was among the factors in the crash.

Hartzell Propeller Inc. of Piqua, Ohio, and Woodward Governor Co. of Rockford, Ill., which built a component that regulates speed on the propeller assembly, were named as defendants in each of the complaints.

Airplane mechanic Randall Miller and Miller Aviation in Adrian were named as additional defendants in the complaint filed on behalf of Dr. DalPra by his sister, Camille DalPra Lupino, who is the executrix of her brother's estate.

She alleges that the plane was serviced by Mr. Miller two weeks before the crash, and that he failed to recognize fatigue in the cylinder and provide adequate service and maintenance to components in the aircraft.

Her attorney, David Petitjean, of the Sylvania law firm W. Drescher & Associates, didn't return phone messages asking for comment.

The lawsuit was assigned to Judge Ruth Ann Franks.

Anthony Turley, who represents the plaintiffs in the estate of the pilot's wife and children, couldn't be reached at his law firm, Connelly, Jackson & Collier.

The defendants in the complaints could not be reached for comment.

Contact Mark Reiter at:

markreiter@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.



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