Lanai plane crash victim’s family sues airline


HONOLULU — The family of a Maui planning worker killed in a fiery plane crash on Lanai has filed a lawsuit claiming negligence against the airline and the estate of the dead pilot.

Richard Fried, an attorney for the family of Kathleen Kern, said Monday the lawsuit is the first filed over the Feb. 26 crash about a mile from Lanai Airport.

Three people were killed — Kern, pilot Richard Rooney and Tremaine Balberdi, another Maui County planning employee.

Authorities say the twin-engine Piper PA-31 crashed shortly after takeoff and immediately burst into flames. Three other county workers suffered burns.

Sheila Magers, Rooney’s business partner at Maui Island Air Inc. and Maui Aircraft Leasing LLC, said in a statement Monday that the airline is still cooperating with federal officials to find out what happened in the crash.

“Prayer is powerful and we continue to pray for all involved in this accident,” Magers said in a faxed statement. “Help us to pray for complete and speedy recovery for those injured and heal hearts that are broken.”

Magers was previously married to the pilot; the couple divorced in December.

The lawsuit accuses the pilot and the companies of being negligent and wrongful in maintaining and operating the aircraft but doesn’t provide specifics. It seeks unspecified damages for pain and suffering, loss of future earnings and funeral and burial expenses.

The airline markets itself online as Volcano Air Tours, offering charter tours of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park since 1993.

The National Transportation Safety Board said in March that the crash left a 640-foot-long debris field. The NTSB said in its preliminary report that visibility was clear despite the crash happening at night. The plane was headed to Kahului, crashing in a former pineapple field.

One of the survivors of the crash told a Transportation Security Administration official that the plane made an extreme bank to the right after taking off.

The crash led Maui County officials to reconsider how much its employees should travel by air to other islands. Lanai, which is mostly owned by Oracle Corp. billionaire Larry Ellison, and Molokai are part of the county.

Fried said Kern and other staff members usually commuted to Lanai by ferry but the charter flight was arranged because of a late meeting.

Kern, 50, was originally from Canada and pursued a longtime dream to live in Hawaii.