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Monday, October 1

NEWPORT, N.H. (AP) -- The manufacturer of an airboat that sank last year during a fatal rescue attempt is blaming the New Hampshire rescue squad for overloading the boat. Maine Yankee Air Boats Inc. claims the Cornish Rescue Squad overloaded the boat and used it improperly. The rescue squad argues it was not responsible for the drowning of Virginia Yates, 64, of Rockingham, Vt.

The rescue squad was taking Yates to an ambulance in August 2006 after she slipped on a dock, hurting her ankle. She was strapped into a litter, which was strapped onto the deck. The boat sank a few seconds after leaving the dock, dragging her under.

Her family sued the rescue squad, the boat maker, several communities and two mutual aid organizations, alleging they were negligent. The family alleges deficiencies in the airboat's design, marketing misrepresentations and false statements to regulatory agencies.

The rescue squad, mutual aid districts and towns named in the lawsuit deny wrongdoing.

In documents filed in Sullivan County Superior Court, Maine Yankee Air Boats Inc. and its chief executive officer, Harold Williams, argue 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 company 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."

The lawsuit said the company gave Cornish Rescue two hours of training and calls the airboat "a near perfect sinking machine," alleging 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.

In a report after Yates death, Sullivan County Attorney Marc Hathaway concluded rescuers believed the airboat would bring Yates safely to a nearby ambulance.

The lawsuit doesn't specify the amount the family is seeking in damages. The three surviving children are seeking "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.

    Copyright © 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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