A US court has paved the way for passengers to sue aircraft maker Boeing after an Emirates flight crash-landed in Dubai two years ago.
Flight 521, from Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala crashed on the runway of Dubai International Airport on August 3, 2016. All 300 passengers and crew survived, with 30 taken to hospital.
The fuel tank of the Boeing 777 exploded in an ensuing blaze, killing firefighter Jassim Al Baloushi, 27, from Ras Al Khaimah.
Lawyers in the US and the UK want to sue Boeing on the grounds that this was a preventable accident caused by a fault in the aircraft’s design.
The action is being brought in Cook County, Chicago, the headquarters of Boeing. At least 15 passengers are believed to be suing.
A year on, the case has cleared its first hurdle with a court declaring the passengers have the right to sue in the US. Boeing is contesting the lawsuit.
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The company tried to have the case thrown out of a US court, arguing it should be heard in the UAE, if at all. A judge rejected their claim. Boeing has not yet said if it would appeal against the decision, but it is likely to be at least two years before the case goes to trial.
The companies involved are Wisner Law, specialists in aviation law in Illinois, and the Stewarts in London, representing at least one British family from the accident.
“Our clients are not critical of Emirates and feel that the crew performed heroically,” said Peter Neenan, a partner at Stewarts. “Their claim is against Boeing for a switch that, without warning, did not function as expected.”
Among the passengers suing are Dr Shahid Rasheed from Scarborough, England.
“I remember asking my wife and children to go into the brace position and thinking the worst,” Dr Rasheed said in a statement from Stewarts.
“After the plane stopped skidding the cabin filled with smoke. My son, who has asthma, was struggling to breathe. We escaped quickly and watched from a distance as the plane erupted into flames.”
Lawyers claim a switch used by pilots to assist in what is known as a “go around” was defective in design, deactivating at a crucial moment and depriving the engines of enough power to get regain height.
The pilots had tried to abort their landing. They retracted the landing gear but had only reached a height of 26 metres when the 777-300 sank back to the ground, sliding down the runway on its fuselage and with one engine breaking off.
The lawsuit claims the switch was defective in design or that Boeing had not told pilots of the problem.
“Whether that was a failure in the design or a failure on the part of Boeing to properly warn the crew about the problem is a matter which is yet to be decided,” said Floyd Wisner, a partner at Wisner Law. “What is clear is it was not the passengers’ fault.”
A preliminary report by the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority found that “analysis of the data downloaded indicates there were no aircraft systems or engine abnormalities up to the time of the accident”.
The full accident report may take another two years to complete, the original estimates suggest.