French court awards damages for 2009 Yemenia plane crash

The aging Airbus A310 went down off the Comorian coast, leaving just one survivor out of 153 passengers and crew

Rescuers in Comoros pictured in 2009 prepare to search the area after the Yemenia Airbus passenger plane crashed into the Indian Ocean off the coast. AP
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A French court on Wednesday ordered a Yemeni airline that operated a passenger plane which crashed into the Indian Ocean in 2009 to pay damages to the flight’s sole survivor and the families of 65 French citizens who died.

The Yemenia flight departed from Paris, picked up more passengers in the southern French city of Marseille and made a stopover in Sanaa, Yemen, where 142 passengers and 11 crew members boarded another plane to continue to the capital of Comoros, an island nation off Africa’s east coast.

The ageing Airbus A310 crashed about 15 kilometres off the Comorian coast while attempting to land in strong winds. In total, 152 people were killed.

Yemenia, which is Yemen's flagship airline, was charged in the Paris court with “manslaughter and unintentional injuries”. The trial in the civil case ended in June.

The company denied responsibility but the court ordered it to pay €225,000 ($237,000) in damages to the survivor, Bahia Bakari, and to the families of the French victims.

Yemenia lawyers said they would appeal the verdict.

Most of the passengers were from Comoros.

Bakari, who was 12 years old at the time, survived by clinging to floating debris from the plane for 11 hours before being rescued. She suffered a broken collarbone, a broken hip, burns and other injuries. Her mother died in the crash.

Now 25, Bakari gave powerful testimony in a packed Paris courtroom in May, earning praise for her bravery from judges and lawyers.

Wreckage of the Yemenia Airbus A310 that crashed on June 30, 2009. AFP

Other witnesses slammed what they claimed was the poor state of air travel from Yemen, which has since become embroiled in a brutal civil war. Some claimed Yemenia was more interested in profits than in taking care of its passengers.

A lawyer for the victims’ families, Said Larifou, denounced the operation of passenger planes that he claimed were “flying coffins”.

In 2015, two French courts that oversaw civil proceedings ordered Yemenia to pay more than €30 million to the victims’ families, who deplored the slowness of the proceedings between France and the Comoros, a former colony that became independent in 1975.

The airline in 2018 signed a confidential agreement with 835 beneficiaries, who had to wait several more years to receive compensation.

Updated: September 14, 2022, 3:59 PM