Families settle wrongful death lawsuits almost a year after fatal OBX plane crash
The families of five people killed in a plane crash off the Outer Banks almost a year ago have settled wrongful death lawsuits against the companies that employed the pilot and owned the plane.
In exchange for $15 million, attorneys for families of the five passengers filed paperwork to dismiss the wrongful death lawsuits in Carteret County Superior Court on Thursday.
The passengers — four East Carteret High School students and the mother of one of them — were returning from a duck hunting trip on Feb. 13, 2022. The plane took off from Hyde County Airport near Englehard and had crossed Pamlico Sound on its way to Michael J. Smith Field Airport in Beaufort when it crashed in the Atlantic Ocean.
All eight people on board were killed, including the pilot, Ernest Durwood Rawls, 67, of Greenville, and his son, Jeffrey Worthington Rawls, 28.
The lawsuit alleged that Ernest Rawls disregarded instructions of air traffic controllers, flew into restricted airspace in bad weather with no visibility and became spatially disoriented. Rawls’ estate was named in the lawsuit, as were EDP Management Group LLC and Green Assets Inc., both of Wilmington.
The National Transportation Safety Board has not completed its investigation of the crash.
In preliminary findings released days after the crash, the NTSB reported that Rawls did not report any problems before the plane plunged into the ocean. The last an air traffic controller heard from him was an acknowledgment that he needed to maintain an altitude of 1,900 feet as he approached Cape Lookout National Seashore at about 2 p.m. The plane was about 200 feet too low, the NTSB said.
Less than three minutes later, the controller tried to reach Rawls again, because the plane, a single-engine Pilatus PC-12, was now at 4,700 feet and “climbing quickly,” according to the NTSB. A minute later, radar contact was lost with the plane, which crashed in about 60 feet of water three miles off shore.
In addition to Rawls and his son, the crash killed Stephanie Ann McInnis Fulcher, 42, and her son Jonathan Kole McInnis, 15, both of Sea Level; Noah Lee Styron, 15, of Cedar Island; Michael Daily Shepard, 15, and Jacob Nolan Taylor, 16, both of Atlantic.
The eighth passenger was Fulcher’s boyfriend, Douglas Hunter Parks, 45, who was identified as the owner of the plane through one of the companies. Neither he nor his estate were named as a plaintiff or defendant in the lawsuit.
The families of Fulcher and the four boys were represented in the lawsuit by Andrew C. Robb, an aviation attorney based in Kansas City. Robb also represented Vanessa Bryant in her wrongful death lawsuit after the helicopter crash in California that killed her husband, basketball star Kobe Bryant, and their daughter Gianna Bryant three years ago.