FAMILIES of the victims of one of Australia's worst aviation disasters have been blocked by insurance giant QBE from long-running legal action in the United States.
Fifteen people died in the 2005 Lockhart River crash on Cape York, but relatives yesterday told The Courier-Mail how they were "shocked and appalled" by a court order to end a nine-year lawsuit in the US against part-owners of the ill-fated Cairns-based Aero Tropics airline.
Lawyers for QBE obtained an order from the Supreme Court in Queensland restraining the Lockhart River families from taking any action other than to dismiss the damages claim before the US courts.
Twelve years on from the tragedy, the father of police officer Sally Urquhart, who died in the May 6, 2005 crash, said families had been victims of "bully boy tactics" and "intimidation" by Australia's biggest insurance company.
Brisbane schoolteacher Shane Urquhart, who lived in Caboolture at the time of the accident, said none of the families or their lawyers had been notified of the latest legal action before the court order.
"We've been fighting for justice for our lost loved ones for so long, and now we feel the judge and the legal system has been duped,'' he said.
"It's not just us, but anyone who gets on a plane in Australia needs to know the sort of bastardry one of the biggest aviation insurers in the country will use against victims of air disasters and their families,'' he said. "None of the plaintiffs were informed. None of our lawyers contacted.''
QBE, according to its website, provides insurance to airlines, aircraft, airports, pilots, refuellers, baggage handlers and maintenance operators.
Reverend Mary Eseli's son, Fred Bowie, and sister-in-law, Mardie Bowie, were among six victims of the air crash from the tiny indigenous communities of Injinoo and Bamaga, at the tip of Cape York.
"It has been an open wound in our hearts that has never healed,'' she said.
"QBE has paid compensation and costs, where appropriate, in respect of the claims by relatives of the deceased passengers against the operator of the aircraft."
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