Three people have filed a personal injury lawsuit against Port of Skagit Commissioner Kevin Ware over alleged injuries sustained in an August 2019 helicopter crash near Cypress Island.
The plaintiffs are Christopher Neibauer and Ashley Walker, who were passengers in the crash, and Hannah Neibauer, who is married to Christopher Neibauer. The three filed the civil complaint on Dec. 7 in Skagit County Superior Court against Ware and his company Peregrine Air, LLC.
The lawsuit states that Ware provided services as a helicopter pilot on Aug. 20, 2019, to Skagit County boat manufacturer Aspen Catamarans for an aerial photo shoot of a catamaran. Christopher Neibauer was hired by Aspen Catamarans as a photographer.
As the helicopter flown by Ware circled the catamaran during the photo shoot, it struck a tree branch off the shore of Cypress Island 20 to 30 feet above sea level, the lawsuit states. The rotor blades hit the tree, and the helicopter “was thrown to the right and hit the water,” the lawsuit states.
Walker got out of the helicopter and helped Ware exit, the lawsuit states. Ware went to the shore, and Walker returned to help Christopher Neibauer, whom she found in the helicopter “completely submerged underwater,” the lawsuit states.
The plaintiffs allege the crash resulted in severe and permanent physical injuries, mental anguish and emotional distress. It contends that the injuries occurred as a result of the “negligent acts and omissions of defendants Kevin Ware and Peregrine” in the preflight planning, maintenance and operation of the helicopter.
They seek an unspecified amount of compensation for economic damages, including medical expenses, and for pain and suffering.
Ware’s answer, filed Jan. 22, denies that the crash and resulting injuries were caused by his negligence. It also states that the “plaintiffs’ injuries and damages were proximately caused by the fault of Ashley Walker.”
His answer requests that the complaint be dismissed with prejudice.
Ware was elected Skagit port commissioner in 2001 and represents District 1, which covers the Mount Vernon area.
The National Transportation Safety Board investigated the crash. In the board’s final aviation accident report, it determined the probable cause of the crash was “the pilot’s failure to maintain adequate clearance from a tree while maneuvering at a low altitude,” according to a copy of the report obtained from the board’s website.
“The pilot reported that there were no pre-accident malfunctions or failures with the helicopter that would have precluded normal operation,” the report states.
The crash resulted in one serious injury and two minor injuries and substantial damage to the aircraft, the report states.
At the time of the crash, Ware had 11,000 total flying hours for all aircraft and 1,500 hours in the Robinson R44, a four-seat helicopter, according to the report.
Ware has an April 2019 certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration to be an airline transport pilot, according to the FAA’s website. He must wear glasses with corrective lenses for near and intermediate vision, according to medical information from June 2020 included with the certificate.