U.S. confirms 11th death linked to faulty Takata air bag inflator

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. safety regulators confirmed late Thursday an 11th death in the United States caused by a ruptured Takata Corp air bag inflator, the latest fatality tied to the largest ever auto safety recall.

At least 16 deaths are now linked to the defect, including five in Malaysia, that prompted the recall of nearly 100 million air bag inflators worldwide by more than a dozen automakers.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said a 50-year-old woman died after a Sept. 30 crash in Riverside County, California in a 2001 Honda Civic that was first recalled in 2008 and never repaired.

This is the first U.S. death reported from a Takata inflator since a 17-year-old high school senior died in Texas in March in a moderate speed crash. Automakers have fixed about 11.4 million inflators in the United States to date -- leaving more than 20 million unrepaired. The defective air bag inflators deploy with too much force sending metal fragments flying.

Honda said in a statement Thursday that more than 20 recall notices were mailed over nearly eight years to registered owners of the vehicle in the deadly California crash.

The victim was identified as Delia Robles, a Corona, California resident who died at a hospital after a crash at a Riverside intersection, the coroner’s office said.

Nine of the 11 U.S. deaths have been reported in 2001-2003 model Honda and Acura vehicles that in June NHTSA classified as high risk and urged owners to immediately stop driving until they got repairs. The 313,000 vehicles identified in June have as high as a 50 percent chance of a dangerous air bag inflator rupture in a crash, NHTSA said citing test data.

Takata spokesman Jared Levy said the “tragedy underscores the importance of replacing those airbag inflators that have been recalled by automakers.”

Honda said previously it had already repaired more than 70 percent of the original group of 1.08 million vehicles recalled with this specific version of the inflator deemed high risk.

In May, NHTSA said 17 automakers will be required to recall another 35 million to 40 million U.S. air bag inflators assembled by Takata by 2019.

Takata is seeking a financial investor to help pay for huge liabilities from the world’s biggest auto recall.

Five bidding groups, who are the air-bag maker’s creditors and customers, will meet with Takata this month in New York, Reuters reported last week, citing people familiar with the matter said.

Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington and Alexandria Sage in San Francisco; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Lisa Shumaker