Publicist Arturo Rivera; makeup artist Jacobo Yebale; hairstylist Jorge Armando Sanchez Vasquez; and attorney Mario Macias Pacheco were killed in the Dec. 9 crash in Monterrey, Mexico, along with Rivera and the two pilots. Relatives of the four member of her entourage filed suit Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court.
The lawsuit contends the owners of the plane were negligent in allowing the older plane to fly, and that the pilot and co-pilot were not qualified to fly passengers in the conditions in which they crashed. The suit seeks economic damages for wrongful death and loss of support, and punitive damages.
Starwood Management and Rodatz Financial Group are the owners of the plane, a 1969 vintage Learjet. The lawsuit says the left wing of the plane had been seriously damaged in a ground accident in 2005, and that the plane was poorly maintained.
The 78-year-old pilot Miguel Perez Soto was not certified to fly above 18,000 feet, the lawsuit contends. The plane was estimated to be traveling at an altitude between 28,000 to 35,000 feet before it crashed after an approximate 5-mile nosedive.
The 20-year-old co-pilot, Alejandro Torres, was not certified to fly the Learjet.
The Federal Aviation Administration does not allow pilots older than 65 to fly passenger planes. FAA rules apply because the plane's owners are based in the U.S. The cause of the crash remains under investigation.
An attorney for the plaintiffs suggested the crash might also have been caused by a failure to pressurize the cabin via a manual switch in the cockpit. If the plane was not pressurized, everyone on board might have passed out from a lack of oxygen, said attorney Paul Kiesel."There's other accidents that have happened in the last 30 to 40 years that have had similar characteristics, and in almost every instance it's been traced back to some sort of mechanical or structural failure or incapacitation of the crew," said aviation expert Mark Schmaltz. "Rivera Enterprises is a named defendant because it's not clear at this point who actually arranged for the charter of this flight," said Kiesel.
Along with monetary damages, Kiesel says he hopes this lawsuit will provide answers to questions to unresolved, not least of which is: Who exactly chartered the doomed flight?
"Until the litigation process starts like this, there's no one that's going to directly answer that question," said Kiesel.
Officials with Las Vegas-based Starwood have insisted the plane was properly maintained. A company executive claimed that the jet was in excellent condition and suggested the cause of the crash may have been a heart attack suffered by the pilot and the inability the co-pilot to regain control of the plane.
Rivera and her entourage, along with two pilots, were killed Dec. 9 when their plane crashed in the mountains of northern Mexico. The Learjet LJ25 crashed around 3:30 a.m., 15 minutes after leaving Monterrey, Mexico, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Rivera had just performed in Monterrey and was on her way to Mexico City to appear on the Mexican version of "The Voice."
Rivera, 43, dominated the banda style of regional Mexican music popular in California and northwestern Mexico. She was one of the biggest stars on Mexico television and was popular on "regional Mexican" stations in California.
City News Service contributed to this report.