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Boat Firm Blames Rescue Squad for Death

NEWPORT, N.H.. — The manufacturer of the airboat used in a botched rescue attempt in August 2006 blames the Cornish Rescue Squad for the death of a Vermont woman, according to court documents.

Maine Yankee Air Boats Inc. and its chief executive officer, Harold Williams, allege in recent court filings that the rescue squad overloaded the boat and used it in a rescue situation “contrary to common sense in the face of obvious and immediate dangers.”

The family of Virginia Yates, who drowned Aug. 22, 2006, after injuring her ankle in Cornish near the bank of the Connecticut River, sued the Cornish Rescue Squad, the boat manufacturer, several municipalities and two mutual aid organizations in July, alleging their negligence caused Yates’ death.

Rescue squad members strapped Yates to a rescue litter on the front of the airboat. When the boat sank a few seconds after leaving the dock, Yates was dragged down with it.

Maine Yankee denies any wrongdoing. In a statement filed this month in Sullivan County Superior Court, the company’s lawyer, James Noucas, wrote that Maine Yankee and Williams “are owed indemnity, contribution and/or allocation from other parties and reserve the right to file formal pleadings to preserve and pursue such rights in this matter.”

Maine Yankee was named as the primary defendant in the lawsuit, with nine of the 10 counts alleging the company was negligent, engaged in deceptive marketing and was liable for Yates’ death. The lawsuit alleges Maine Yankee marketed the 15-foot airboat as a “rescue craft” that would make difficult missions “safe, easy and fast.”

Calling the airboat “a near perfect sinking machine,” the lawsuit alleges Maine Yankee “knew or should have known” that the airboat wasn’t safe to operate in water deeper than two feet and that its high center of gravity made it prone to taking on water.

In earlier court filings, the Cornish Rescue Squad, and the towns of Cornish, Charlestown, Plainfield and Springfield, Vt., and two mutual aid districts also denied all liability for Yates’ death. Those parties all claim the plaintiff’s damages were caused by another entity, but they do not name one.

“The defendant asserts that any injuries or damages suffered by the plaintiffs were caused by the intervening and/or superseding acts of one or more parties outside the defendant’s control and for whom the defendant was not legally responsible,” wrote Manchester attorney Mark Attorri on behalf of the rescue squad.

An investigation by the Sullivan County Attorney’s Office after the incident yielded no criminal charges. A report by Sullivan County Attorney Marc Hathaway said the would-be rescuers believed the airboat would bring Yates safely to a nearby ambulance.

The lawsuit doesn’t specify the amount the family is seeking in compensatory damages; it does say Yates’ three surviving children want “enhanced damages” from Maine Yankee and compensation for “medical expenses, funeral expenses, a loss of income, the loss of Virginia Yates’ life, and the enjoyment of life, her wrongful death and other damages.”

A trial has not yet been scheduled.