Air France crash survivors seeking damages

10th November 2005, Comments 0 comments

TORONTO, Nov 10 (AFP) - Some 50 passengers of doomed Air France Flight 358 have gathered in Toronto, where three months ago they survived a fiery crash landing, seeking answers, hope and retribution.

TORONTO, Nov 10 (AFP) - Some 50 passengers of doomed Air France Flight 358 have gathered in Toronto, where three months ago they survived a fiery crash landing, seeking answers, hope and retribution.

What Canada's transport minister dubbed a "miracle" -- all 297 passengers and 12 crew escaped serious injury after their Airbus 340 skidded off the end of a runway at Toronto airport on August 2 -- these people remember as the most horrific experience of their lives, and they want compensation for their suffering.

"I'm not the same as before and it makes me angry (often) and very sad," said Abdul Al-Jebory, who has difficulty turning his head because of a neck injury. His left knee still hurts from jumping two meters (over six feet) from the right front exit of the plane where an escape chute did not deploy.

His wife was trampled by other passengers while trying to flee before the plane burst into flames and has since lost her sight in one eye. She feels "hopeless," Al-Jebory said. His three-year-old daughter has frequent nightmares, he said.

A majority of the passengers suffer from psychological problems and a few dozen still feel pain after suffering real injuries, said lawyer Paul Miller.

Two separate lawsuits were filed within weeks of the crash. Both have since merged into a single class action lawsuit accusing Air France, Toronto airport authorities, control tower staff, Airbus, Goodrich -- which built the jet's escape chutes, two of which malfunctioned -- and the two pilots of Flight 358 of negligence in the accident.

The suit is seeking CAD $150 million (EUR 107.7 million). At the meeting Wednesday meant to update passengers on the proceedings, Miller said 107 plaintiffs had so far joined the litigation.

One passenger who asked to remain anonymous said he suffers bouts of anxiety and depression, sees a therapist regularly and says he is too afraid to fly ever again.

"I left my office at about 3:45pm (to come here), the same time the plane crashed. It was black outside and raining buckets, the same as the day of the crash," said the Toronto-area resident.

At Toronto airport, driving rain caused flight delays and cancellations on Wednesday, and drivers on a nearby highway complained of poor visibility.

"There's been nothing done since: no crash zone built at the airport, no proper radar installed, the runway hasn't been lengthened.

"Nothing has been done to prevent a similar accident," the man said, highlighting some of the popular, but unproven theories behind the crash.

"It was very traumatic," he said, pulling out of his wallet a photo of passengers fleeing the burning jet and a local newspaper clipping with the headline, 'The Great Escape'.

"You're never the same person. You may look the same, but when you face death, you never feel the same afterwards."

Air France offered passengers up to EUR 10,000 each and a free flight as compensation, Miller said.

The airline also hired BMS Catastrophe, the same US firm that combed through the World Trade Centre rubble after the September 11, 2001 attacks, to recover personal effects from the aircraft's fire-ravaged fuselage. Miller said they will likely be returned to passengers by December.

In August, Air France chief executive Jean-Cyril Spinetta blamed airport authorities for allowing the plane to land in bad weather.

Transport Safety Board lead investigator Real Levasseur said the massive jet was too high on its approach and touched down too far along the rain-soaked runway before overshooting, skidding off into a ravine and bursting into flames.

He found no mechanical malfunctions, leaving human error and severe weather conditions as the likely culprits.

The board's conclusions, however, cannot be used in court to find fault.

Miller said he expects the lawsuit to be certified by a judge in March or April, but warned passengers it could take up to four years to resolve.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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