News Column

Lawsuits by Crash Victims Target Boeing

Aug. 9, 2013

In a new twist in the crash of Asiana Flight 214, three San Francisco Bay Area families allege in lawsuits filed Thursday that airplane manufacturer Boeing should have known to retrofit the plane following a similar crash in 2009, and played a critical role in the training of the airline's pilots in South Korea.

"You cannot simply write this off as pilots who came in too low and too slow," said Burlingame attorney Frank Pitre, who filed three separate lawsuits against Asiana and Boeing in U.S. District Court in San Francisco late Thursday. "There's more to it. You cannot excuse Boeing."

Pitre expects to file a similar, fourth lawsuit Friday on behalf of another Bay Area family that also suffered injuries when the Boeing 777 crashed July 6 as it tried to land at San Francisco International Airport, killing three teenage Chinese girls and injuring dozens of others.

The four suits _ on behalf of 12 Bay Area passengers _ are the first to allege a direct link between Boeing and the training of Asiana's pilots. In the week following the crash, daily briefings provided by the National Transportation Safety Board focused much of the attention on the actions and inactions of the pilots. There was no mention of aircraft mechanical problems.

Since 2006, according to the lawsuits, Boeing has trained Asiana pilots at a South Korean campus near Gimpo International Airport that specializes in teaching pilots how to operate the Boeing 777.

"Boeing wrote and/or approved instructions and warnings for the subject aircraft, including flight manuals, operation manuals, maintenance manuals, maintenance instructions, inspection schedules, and service life scheduled to be followed by owners and operators, including Asiana, for the continued airworthiness and safe flight of the Boeing 777-200ER aircraft," according to the lawsuits.

The suits do not seek specific monetary damages from Asiana or Boeing. Pitre said he would leave any awards up to juries hearing the cases.

Boeing officials previously have said they do not respond to litigation and could not be reached for comment late Thursday. Asiana officials also have said they would not comment on litigation related to the crash.

The veteran pilot who crashed July 6 was making his first landing at SFO in a Boeing 777. He was being supervised by a pilot making his first flight as a trainer. A third "relief pilot" also was in the cockpit when the plane slammed into the seawall that abuts Runway 28 Left and skidded down the runway before bursting into flames. The suit does not make clear if Boeing trained the pilots involved in the crash.

The NTSB said in its briefings that the pilots tried to land well below the optimum landing speed of 137 knots (or 158 mph) and tried to abort the landing just 1.5 seconds before impact.

Following the 2009 crash landing of a Turkish Airlines Boeing 737-800 in Amsterdam _ "under very similar circumstances as Flight 214," Boeing retrofitted 400 Boeing 737s with a voice command warning of "Low Airspeed, Low Airspeed" following recommendations by the Dutch Safety Board, according to the lawsuit.

The "Triple 7" that crashed at SFO apparently had no such voice warning for the three pilots who were inside the cockpit at the time of the crash, Pitre said in an interview with the San Jose Mercury News on Thursday in his Burlingame offices.

"Why didn't Boeing upgrade the 777?" Pitre asked. "It's a software upgrade. It's not like you have to put in whole new hardware. Why are we re-learning the same dangerous examples and seeing individual passengers injured?"

The lawsuits also allege that the Asiana Flight 214 crew violated Federal Aviation Administration policies that all passengers must be evacuated within 90 seconds of impact. Following the crash, the NTSB said a flight attendant asked the pilots whether they should evacuate and was told to wait because the pilots were in contact with flight controllers.

The evacuation eventually began after another flight attendant told the pilots that the plane was on fire, according to the NTSB. The lawsuits also allege a safety disparity between passengers who were seated in coach class _ where only lap seat belts were available _ and those in business and first-class, which were equipped with both lap belts and shoulder belts.

One of the passengers who filed suit Thursday, Shuzhi Han, 72, was sitting in coach with her daughter and granddaughter.

Han suffered "serious spinal injuries" in the crash that Pitre believes are related to the absence of a shoulder belt.

It's unclear whether Boeing delivered the aircraft to Asiana with shoulder and lap belts in first and business class _ or whether Asiana upgraded the seat belts later, Pitre said. Either way, he said, "The difference in safety is directly related to the price of a ticket. As a consumer, this is most offensive. My safety and the safety of my family is compromised by my ability to buy a first-class ticket."



Source: (c)2013 San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.


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