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Unfit for flight: Lies and coverups mask roots of small-plane carnage

A USA TODAY investigation shows repeated instances in which small aircraft crashes, deaths and injuries were caused by defective parts and dangerous designs, casting doubt on the government's official rulings and revealing the inner workings of an industry hit so hard by legal claims that it sought and won liability protection from Congress.

Wide-ranging defects have persisted for years as manufacturers covered up problems, lied to federal regulators and failed to remedy known malfunctions, USA TODAY found. Some defective parts remained in use for decades — and some are still in use — because manufacturers refused to acknowledge or recall the suspect parts or issued a limited recall that left dangerous components in hundreds of aircraft. The manufacturers involved paid hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements that received little or no public attention until now.

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