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Crash survivor drops suit against dead pilot

WINNIPEG - Two lawsuits against a pilot responsible for a plane crash in northern Ontario that killed him and three others have been dropped after the airline admitted responsibility.

Court documents show the sole survivor of the 2012 crash, Brian Shead, and the family of victim Colette Eisinger are still seeking damages from Keystone Air Service.

A Transportation Safety Board investigation concluded that poor weather, ice on the wings and the pilot's inexperience landing in icy conditions contributed to the deadly crash in North Spirit Lake First Nation. Keystone admitted in its statement of defence that the fatal crash was caused by pilot error, which makes the airline "vicariously liable."

"Further, the accident was not caused or contributed to by any negligence on the part of the passengers who were wholly innocent," the statement said.

The airline argues, however, that it is not responsible for damages in either case and it called those claims "exaggerated, excessive, too remote and not recoverable at law."

"Keystone denies that the plaintiff sustained the injuries or damages as alleged, or at all," the airline said in its statement of defence in Shead's lawsuit. It also argued that the accident happened while Shead was employed by a Winnipeg company which provides financial services for First Nations, so he can't sue according to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act.

Shead's lawsuit alleged that the pilot, Fariborz Abasabady, was incompetent and the airline was negligent in not providing proper training to him.

The family of Eisinger, who was 39, is seeking general and punitive damages and wants to be reimbursed for the cost of her funeral.

Anthony Lafontaine Guerra, Shead's lawyer, said they decided to drop the suit against the pilot's family in April once Keystone accepted responsibility in March. Eisinger's family dropped the suit against the pilot's estate July 10.

"The only issue that remains is a determination of damages which will likely be resolved by way of settlement out of court," Guerra said.

Any settlement would probably be covered by a confidentiality agreement, he added.

Neither a lawyer for Keystone, nor a lawyer for Eisinger's father, Gerry Robson, responded to a request for comment.

The ill-fated plane left from Winnipeg on Jan. 10, 2012 but was forced to circle the runway servicing the North Spirit Lake First Nation for almost half an hour while the strip was plowed. As the plane circled, ice built up on its wings and tail — a buildup that caused the plane to stall and crash when it eventually tried to land.

Although residents of the reserve, about 400 kilometres north of Dryden, Ont., rushed to the site and tried to put out the flames with snow, they couldn't save those trapped inside.

Abasabady, who was 41, died along with Eisinger, Ben van Hoek, 62 — president of Aboriginal Strategies Inc., where Eisinger worked as an accountant — and Martha Campbell, 38, a band worker for the North Spirit Lake First Nation.

Shead, who also worked at Aboriginal Strategies, was injured but tried to unstrap the other passengers and put out the fire on the plane's wing. He has said he managed to pull the pilot out of the cockpit window before collapsing in the snow.

In his statement of claim, Shead said the ordeal left him with multiple injuries. He was in hospital for three weeks and required surgery, medication, physiotherapy and stitches, the lawsuit said.

Shead is seeking unspecified damages for "pain and suffering," as well as "loss of enjoyment of life" and "out-of-pocket expenses." He is also claiming compensation for belongings that were destroyed in the crash, including a laptop, a pair of jeans, a winter jacket and a mobile phone carrying case.

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