Contending that the U.S. Air Force "failed to provide safety procedures," the family of a Morton Thiokol employee killed in a Dec. 29 explosion filed a wrongful-death suit Monday afternoon against the military.
Lawrence Rothenberger was one of the five men killed in the explosion at the Morton Thiokol facility near Brigham City. The men died while casting a solid-fuel motor for the Air Force's MX missile. According to reports by investigators, a spark ignited the 100,000 pounds of fuel while workers were removing a metal core from the cast motor.Len Barry, public relations officer at Hill Air Force Base, told the Deseret News that Air Force officials have not reviewed the suit. However, Air Force policy prohibits any public comment on suits until the completion of litigation, he said.
The surviving Rothenberger family members contend in the suit, filed in Utah federal court, that the Air Force was negligent for not monitoring procedures at the government-owned casting plant. They allege that the Air Force knew the Morton Thiokol procedures caused an unreasonable risk of bodily harm to others.
The Rothenbergers are seeking unspecified damages for the Air Force's alleged negligence which, they say, deprived them of love, companionship and association with their loved one. The suit further seeks compensation for Rothenberger's widow, Ilah Rae, for loss of earnings, support and retirement.
The 47-year old Rothenberger is survived by his widow, three married children and nine grandchildren. He was a casting foreman and had worked at Thiokol for 13 years.
Specifically, the Rothenbergers contend the Air Force was negligent by failing to:
-Require safe manufacturing methods.
-Employ safety engineers and inspectors to be on-site or near the plant.
-Maintain state-of-the-art safety procedures.
_Correct known safety deficiencies. _Inform Rothenberger and other employees of the dangers at the plant.
The Air Force concluded in its own investigation that the accident was due to Morton Thiokol's inadequate and neglected safety procedures.
The Utah Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Morton Thiokol for six safety violations, concluding the workers did not follow safety procedures. The men were supposed to monitor the core removal from a quarter mile away by using a remote-control camera at the casting plant. Because the camera apparently was not working, the men were in the plant at the time of the explosion, investigators reported.
However, without admitting guilt or responsibility for the explosion, Morton Thiokol settled the claim with the Utah OSHA by agreeing to pay $14,700 in out-of-court fines.