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$1.2-Million Award Near in Guard Pilot’s Death

Times Staff Writer

When Larry Wert’s F-4C Phantom jet caught fire one day in 1982 over Gila Bend, Ariz., the National Guardsman and commercial airline pilot tried to parachute to safety by activating his ejection seat.

He couldn’t. The parachute rip cord was defective, and the 43-year-old father of two plummeted to his death in what was to have been a routine training mission for the Indiana National Guard.

Now, more than 6 years later, his survivors will be compensated.

Attorneys for the family notified an Orange County Superior Court judge on Tuesday that they had reached the final stages of a settlement totaling $1.2 million from the various makers of the faulty escape system.

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Wert’s wife and two sons will receive $815,000 from Wasley Products of Connecticut, along with $300,000 from McDonnell Douglas Corp. and lesser sums from several smaller manufacturers.

“These cases are very difficult when you’re dealing with government contractors, so we’re very pleased and satisfied with the outcome,” Santa Ana lawyer Wylie A. Aitken said.

The defendants in the suit acknowledged in court settlement papers that Wert’s parachute assembly was defective but maintained that it could not be proved that Wasley manufactured the particular rip cord device involved in the accident.

Part of the civil suit was brought in Orange County court because Wasley distributes its products here, Aitken said.

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