PORTLAND, Maine — A federal judge Monday awarded an Ohio woman more than $104,000 in damages as a result of a private plane forced to make an emergency landing in Colorado last May that left her fearful of flying after a “harrowing 15 minutes” in which she believed her entire family would die.
The plane, which lost a tail section, was not properly repaired by Oxford Aviation Inc., in Oxford, Maine, U.S. District Judge John Woodcock found. No one was injured seriously in the landing, according to court documents.
Woodcock found in favor of Karen Skilken, 50, of Columbus, Ohio, after Oxford Aviation Inc. did not respond to the complaint. In a companion lawsuit, the judge last year awarded more than $423,000 in damages to Joseph Skilken & Co., the real estate firm that owned the aircraft operated by Skilken’s husband, Steven Skilken, 63, of Columbus, Ohio.
The judge awarded compensatory but not punitive damages in each case.
Oxford Aviation’s owner and president, James Horowitz of Casco, was served with complaints from both lawsuits on Aug. 27, according to information posted on the court’s electronic case filing system. Horowitz also did not respond to the firm’s lawsuit. The judge entered default judgments in favor of Karen Skilken and her husband’s company.
Efforts on Thursday to reach Horowitz were unsuccessful. The phone number for Oxford Aviation has been disconnected.
Karen Skilken’s parents and the couple’s daughters, then aged 12 and 10, were aboard the Cessna Conquest II turboprop, piloted by her husband, when it left Columbus, Ohio, on May 31 to pick up other family members in Colorado Springs, Colo. The family planned to go to Las Vegas and California to celebrate Karen Skilken’s birthday. Steven Skilken had picked up the plane the previous day at Oxford Aviation, where it had been left to be repainted, Woodcock wrote in his order granting damages to Karen Skilken.
“ Steve Skilken was piloting the plane, which became suddenly uncontrollable — pitching, diving and yawing as if in severe turbulence,” the judge wrote. “Items in the cabin flew about, doors unlatched, a stowed and latched table broke off and careened around the cabin, a computer flew right out of its bag and almost struck one of the passengers, and a automatic voice came on, saying ‘Pull Up Terrain’ and ‘Fuel Low.’
“Mr. Skilken pulled out the pilot’s manual and began to read, saying: ‘There’s something wrong,’” Woodcock continued. “He was able to steady the aircraft momentarily, but he would suddenly lose control again and the plane would resume bouncing around the sky. The in-flight ordeal lasted about fifteen minutes.”
The pilot was able to land at Colorado Springs Airport.
At a hearing before Woodcock on damages last week in Portland, Karen Skilken testified that she and her children were afraid they all were going to die. Once on the ground, she said she was worried about an explosion and told everyone to get out of the plane quickly, the judge wrote.
“She looked at her mother, who was sitting shaking her head, and was shocked to see that her mother’s hair and face had turned completely blue,” Woodcock said. “Later she learned that the blue toilet liquid had burst from the wall and exploded over her mother’s head. Amazingly, the other people on the airplane were unharmed.”
It was unclear Wednesday whether Karen Skilken or the company would be able to collect the $500,000 in damages or not.
In November, Horowitz transferred the company’s assets to himself and filed for personal bankruptcy. That filing was dismissed March 10 after he failed to make any payments to creditors and meet other requirements of the bankruptcy trustee.
Efforts to reach his bankruptcy attorneys Thursday were unsuccessful.
In addition to his legal troubles in federal court, Oxford Aviation also is facing eviction complaints from Oxford County and Community Concepts Finance Corp. in state court, according to a previously published report. Oxford County is attempting to evict Oxford Aviation from the buildings it leases from the county at the Oxford County Regional Airport. Community Concepts is looking for $62,500 in company assets Horowitz put up as collateral to secure a loan back in 1996.