Roberta Lowenstein calls it vindication.
Two years after Norman Lowenstein's plane slammed into a Greenacres pond in 2003, federal investigators blamed the fatal crash on pilot error, saying the 77-year-old retired scrap-metal magnate was impaired because he was loaded with over-the-counter cold medicine at 10 times the normal dosage.
Lowenstein's widow got her own experts, who argued that the high reading was false and the real cause was a problem with the Cessna's propeller.
Now she's reached what she and her lawyer say is a seven-figure settlement with Cessna; Honeywell, maker of some of the plane's parts; and Colorado-based West Star Aviation, which maintained the plane.
In a settlement, no one admits fault, and most details are confidential. But a participant in the suit who asked not to be identified said West Star's insurer, who also insured Lowenstein, paid more than $500,000. Cessna spokesman Doug Oliver said from Wichita that his firm paid "under $100,000" in what he called "a settlement of convenience." A Honeywell spokesman said the company could not comment on what it described as "continuing litigation."
Roberta Lowenstein was skiing in Colorado on Dec. 30, 2003, with the couple's son Joseph, then 7, when she learned that her husband had been killed. The Boca Raton couple had been married 20 years. He had two daughters and five grandchildren from a previous marriage.
Norman Lowenstein had left the Boca Raton airport that morning with plans to make a practice landing at Palm Beach International Airport near West Palm Beach. The twin-engine, 10-seat Cessna 441 Conquest fell from 1,700 feet to 200 feet in 15 seconds before crashing in the River Bridge neighborhood, witnesses said.
The National Transportation Safety Board's final report, in July 2005, said that the probable cause of the crash was "the pilot's failure to maintain aircraft control," adding that "a factor was the pilot's impairment" by the antihistamine chlorpheniramine. Lawyers would have been able to use the NTSB's lab results but not its conclusions in court, spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz said from Washington.
West Palm Beach toxicologist Dr. Stefan Rose, hired by Lowenstein's widow, concluded that the condition of his body caused a false reading.
"No data exists to prove a specific blood chlorpheniramine result and performance impairment." Rose wrote.
Roberta Lowenstein filed suit in U.S. District Court in December 2005, naming a dozen different companies.
Although the issue of the medicine never had its day in court, Lowenstein said she believes the settlement cleared her husband's name.
"He would never get into a car, let alone an airplane, having taken any kind of cold medication," Lowenstein said this week from Colorado, where she moved after her husband's death. "I knew there was something wrong. He would not do this."
Norman Lowenstein, who retired to South Florida in 1987, had been a pilot for 45 years and was certified as an airline transport pilot, the highest grade the Federal Aviation Administration issues.
Ed Curtis, Roberta Lowenstein's lawyer, said engineers he hired had concluded the blades of the right engine propeller had become angled in a way that created reverse thrust, prompting the horizontal spin.
The NTSB report "did not address whether the blades were at the wrong angle or why they had been at the wrong angle," Curtis said. "It was either repair error or something in the maintenance."
West Star disputed that assessment.
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