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WASHINGTON — The families of three soldiers killed in a plane crash in Afghanistan have sued the flight’s contractor for failing to follow proper safety procedures before and during the flight.

The lawsuit alleges that Blackwater Inc. and several subsidiaries used inexperienced pilots, did not plot proper flight plans, and ignored company safety procedures on the Nov. 27, 2004, flight which killed three company employees and three soldiers from the 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division.

“It is difficult to know [my husband] was killed in what I believe was a preventable accident,” said Army Col. Jeanette McMahon, wife of Lt. Col. Michael McMahon.

“In the military, it’s always safety considerations first. I don’t feel Blackwater took the appropriate safety steps in this flight.”

Last fall, Blackwater received nearly $35 million from the Department of Defense to shuttle servicemembers and U.S. contractors in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan.

Jonathan Stern, an attorney for Blackwater, said in a statement that the accident is still under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, and the company would not respond to allegations until that is complete.

However, he said that Blackwater “played no role” in the November flight. The flight crew and plane were from Presidential Airways Inc., also named in the lawsuit. Blackwater’s Web site lists Presidential Airways as the company’s commercial aviation operator.

“The accident was a tragedy, and Presidential was and is saddened by the loss of life, not only of the three servicemen, but also of three of its own,” Stern said.

An Army investigation into the November crash said both pilots of the small turboprop plane were flying near the Bamian Valley for the first time, and crashed into a mountainside when they became disoriented.

McMahon, Chief Warrant Officer Travis Grogan, and the three Blackwater employees were killed in the crash; Spc. Harley Miller survived but died before rescuers could arrive, which took several days due to weather and the lack of a flight plan.

Attorney Bob Spohrer said before the flight officials ignored company policies to pair up inexperienced pilots with skilled ones, instead opting to send two novice pilots into a treacherous area. No flight plan was filed, so the pilots did not have a clear idea how to navigate the mountainous area and rescue crews could not retrace the flight route.

The lawsuit asks for unspecified damages. Col. McMahon, who has three sons, said she hopes the lawsuit will force the company to review its policies and ensure the safety of its flights.

“I don’t want this to happen to another family again,” she said.


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