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Wife of pilot files suit in Butte crash that killed 14

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Butte plane crash anniversary
The victims of last year’s plane crash near the Butte airport included the Jacobson family of St. Helena, Calif.: Amy Jacobson, 34, and her husband, Dr. Erin Jacobson, 36, an ophthalmologist, and their children Taylor, 4, Ava, 3, and Jude, almost 2. Courtesy photo

BUTTE - The wife of the pilot in the 2009 crash in Butte that killed 14 people is suing the airplane’s manufacturer and the company responsible for the plane’s maintenance, claiming they are liable for the deadly crash.

Janet Summerfield filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Butte district court against Pilatus Aircraft, Martin Aviation Inc. and others seeking unspecified monetary damages. The lawsuit comes almost on the third anniversary of the crash that occurred March 22, 2009.

Summerfield’s husband, Ellison “Bud” Summerfield, along with all 13 passengers — who included seven children — died in the crash. The private plane crashed into Butte’s Holy Cross Cemetery, which is located adjacent to the Butte airport.

The eight-page complaint alleges that manufacturers of the Pilatus PC-12/45 that Ellison Summerfield, 65, was piloting had a defective fuel system and other components that made the aircraft “unreasonably dangerous.” The lawsuit also claims Martin Aviation failed to properly maintain the plane.

Missoula attorney William Rossbach is representing Summerfield.

The National Transportation Safety Board ruled in July 2011 that the crash was due to pilot error. The board determined that Summerfield cut safety corners and then did not take the appropriate action after discovering a problem with his fuel system.

Summerfield, who had 44 years of flying experience, didn’t add ice inhibitor to the Pilatus PC-12/45’s fuel as required when flying in freezing temperatures, the report concluded. This caused the fuel system to become clogged. The report further concluded that Summerfield didn’t make an emergency landing soon enough to the nearest airfield when he discovered a problem.

The plane, taking passengers from California to Bozeman for a ski trip, became unbalanced in the flight and he requested a diversion to Butte. The pilot lost control of the plane while attempting to land in Butte, the NTSB’s report concluded.

The report stated there were too many passengers and too much weight for this type of plane.

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