Lawsuit claims negligence in Lanai plane crash

The family of a Kihei woman who died in an airplane crash on Lanai is suing the companies that owned and operated the plane and the estate of the pilot, who also died in the crash, for negligence.

The lawsuit was filed Friday in 2nd Circuit Court on behalf of Heather Shannon, representing the estate of her sister Kathleen Kern.

Kern was among five Maui County employees aboard a chartered Maui Air Tours flight that crashed shortly after takeoff from Lanai Airport at 9:11 p.m. Feb. 26. The employees had staffed a Lanai Planning Commission meeting that evening and were returning to Kahului Airport when the twin-engine Piper Chieftan went down in an area known as Miki Basin, about 1 mile south of the airport.

Kern, 50, who was a planner, and Planning Department secretary Tremaine Balberdi, 52, of Kahului were killed along with pilot Richard “Dick” Rooney, 66, of Spreckelsville.

Deputy Corporation Counsel James Giroux, planner Doug Miller and geographical information systems analyst Mark King survived the crash but were hospitalized, suffering from burns, according to the county.

Honolulu attorney L. Richard Fried Jr., who is representing Kern’s estate, said that the lawsuit is the first to be filed in connection with the plane crash.

Listed as defendants are Maui Island Air Inc. and Maui Aircraft Leasing LLC, which are described as the owners or operators of the plane. Rooney, the pilot, was an officer of both companies.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash.

In a statement released Monday, Maui Air officer Sheila Magers said: “We are still cooperating with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and NTSB to find out what happened on February 26th.”

“We want to thank all of our friends, neighbors and associates for their outpouring of love, support and expressions of sympathy,” the statement continued. “Prayer is powerful, and we continue to pray for all involved in this accident. Help us to pray for complete and speedy recovery for those injured and heal hearts that are broken.”

Kern, who had been with the Maui Planning Commission since June 2009, loved her work and planned to finish her career there, according to a news release from Fried.

She had received a bachelor’s degree in cultural studies and critical theory and analysis from Trent University in Canada. Then she went to York University in Toronto for a master’s degree in social and political thought, followed by a bachelor of architecture degree from the University of British Columbia.

She had completed approximately 90 percent of her doctor of philosophy in urban design and planning when she left to work for the City of Seattle in city design. Before coming to Maui, she worked for the City of Vancouver as an urban designer and planner.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at