The widow of a pilot who died in a midair crash has settled her lawsuit against Hageland Aviation
Last month, defunct air carrier Hageland Aviation paid out $2.5 million in a lawsuit filed against them. This closes a chapter in the now six-year-old story of pilot Zach Babat, who was killed in a 2016 midair collision involving two small commercial airplanes.
In 2016, Babat was piloting a Piper Super Cub for Bethel-based Renfro’s Alaskan Adventures. He and a Renfro’s guide were flying from Bethel to a hunting camp, cruising at over 1,000 feet. That’s when a Cessna Caravan took off from Russian Mission and essentially ascended into Babat’s plane. Both planes tumbled to the ground and all seven people on board, including both pilots, were killed.
Following the crash, Babat’s employer and his widow, Kerry Pride, filed the lawsuit against Hageland Aviation.
“Really, the motivation was to show that the other party was at fault. And to make them push to improve their safety,” said Pride.
The lawsuit against Hageland Aviation alleges that the company was completely at fault. Attorneys for Pride hired aviation experts who concluded that the pilot of the Cessna Caravan should have had a clear view of Babat’s plane while taking off.
Pride said that her husband was known throughout the state for his high safety standards as a pilot of nearly two decades.
“My husband flew for Hageland [Aviation] for a little while. And he left because of safety concerns,” said Pride.
Settlements don’t point to fault, but Pride said that she sees the high dollar amount as an admission of the carrier’s wrongdoing. And there was no countersuit filed.
“It gives me relief, because we know Zach was not at fault in this. And so I feel like I did my job for Zach and his good name, and for Renfro’s [Alaskan Adventures],” said Pride.
But Pride thinks that airline safety in Alaska still has a long way to go.
An investigation by Unalaska public radio station KUCB and ProPublica in 2021 revealed that Alaska is the most dangerous state for small airline travel. KUCB reported that almost half of the nation’s small plane crashes are in Alaska. And there have been five midair collisions in the five years following Babat’s plane crash. The report attributed the crashes largely to inexperienced pilots, lack of support while flying in remote areas, and poor infrastructure at rural airports.
Pride said that the lawsuit was agonizing, and lasted as many as two extra years due to the pandemic. She is glad this chapter of her life is behind her. She’s looking forward to continuing her work with Babat’s estate. He was a prolific wildland painter who took much of his inspiration from scenes he witnessed in Alaska. She said because of that, she has set up a scholarship in his name for art students in Babat’s two beloved homes of Alaska and Montana.