Essendon Air Crash - Residents Sue Rudge

The Age

Friday April 1, 1994

PAUL CONROY

Residents who claim they have been traumatised by an air crash in North Essendon last year have decided to sue the owner of the twin- engine plane.

Writs were lodged in the County Court this week against the owner of Rudge Air, Mr Ted Rudge, claiming unspecified damages for serious psychological injuries. They have been filed by the legal firm Maurice Blackburn and Co on behalf of seven residents of Gilbertson Street where the plane crashed.

The Rudge Air de Havilland Dove, which took off in fine weather on 3 December for a scenic flight over Melbourne and Port Phillip Bay, crashed just after takeoff, injuring the pilot, Mr Rudge, the hostess and eight passengers.

No one was killed, but the crash renewed calls by residents for the closure of Essendon Airport.

A lawyer with Maurice Blackburn and Co, Mr Bill Shorten, said yesterday that the legal action was the largest group claim for nervous shock taken in Australia. Another 10 residents are expected to lodge similar claims.

Mr Rudge, hailed as a hero after the crash, said last night that he was stunned and that he could lose everything, including his airline.

A resident, Mr Dick Byrne, said he had decided to lodge a statement of claim because he had experienced post-trauma stress since the crash.

``If the plane had hit the house, we would have been all dead," he said.

Mr Byrne, 47, said he was in the back yard of his North Essendon home last year when he heard a high-pitched noise overhead. His two oldest children were upstairs watching television and his two youngest were having a bath downstairs.

Mr Byrne said the plane clipped the roof of his two-storey home, but Mr Rudge was able to take evasive action that probably saved his family. The plane clipped three other houses before diving into the front yard of a fifth.

Four months after the crash, Mr Byrne says he still experiences nervous shock, anxiety and insomnia. He has received counselling and medical treatment, but the psychological problems have persisted. ``I can still see the plane there and hear the crash. I am not out to rob Ted, but I just want compensation," he said.

Mr Byrne described Mr Rudge as a hero and a genius, and said he owes everything to him for saving his family.

``He is a fantastic pilot. He definitely saved our lives," he said.

Mr Byrne said he had some qualms about the action, but did not see it in personal terms.

© 1994 The Age

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