French Court Dismisses Suit by 1992 Airbus Crash Victims’ Families

October 10, 2006

A court in eastern France last week threw out a lawsuit by families of victims of a 1992 plane crash that accused the government of dragging out prosecution of the case.

After a 14-year investigation, defense aviation officials and an Airbus executive went on trial in May for manslaughter in the crash, which killed 87 people. A verdict in that trial, in the city of Colmar, is expected Nov. 7.

Families say 14 years is too long to wait for justice, and sued the French government for euro14 million (US$17.7 million) for “excessive duration of the penal procedure.”

A civil court in Strasbourg threw out the case last Monday, court officials said. The court sided with state prosecutor Elisabeth Roth-Pignon, who said a long procedure was to be expected in such a complex case, and said the families showed no proof that anyone intentionally dragged it out.

The families filed a similar lawsuit with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Many questions remain about the Jan. 20, 1992 crash of an Airbus A320 of France’s largest domestic airline Air Inter carrying 96 passengers and crew. Nine people survived the crash and freezing cold on Mont Sainte-Odile, a 2,500-foot (762-meter) mountain near the German border.

Victims’ families say the plane was to blame. Investigators have considered arguments that the plane was ergonomically flawed, or that its navigation system might have been to blame. Pilot error was at fault in two previous crashes of A320s, but some aviation officials suggested computer malfunctions might have been involved in the Mont Sainte-Odile crash.

Airbus has declined to comment publicly on the investigation.

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