Crash airline offers £285,000 for each victim

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The Independent Online

Singapore Airlines has offered $400,000 (£285,000) to the families of each of the passengers and crew who were killed in last week's airline crash in Taiwan, in what may be an attempt to pre-empt massive claims for compensation.

Singapore Airlines has offered $400,000 (£285,000) to the families of each of the passengers and crew who were killed in last week's airline crash in Taiwan, in what may be an attempt to pre-empt massive claims for compensation.

The sum is more than eight times the maximum that airlines are obliged to pay out under international law, and appears to be an attempt to avoid the kind of bitter legal dispute presently being fought between Air France and families of the victims of July's Concorde disaster in Paris.

Singapore International Airlines promised to pay the compensation within two weeks and to compensate those injured and traumatised in the crash on a case-by-case basis. "This is a very sad situation and the airline hopes to help families through this terrible period by offering compensation without delay," the airline said in a statement. But reports suggested that at least some of the families would reject the offer and hold out for higher levels of compensation.

The airline, which formerly had a reputation as one of the world's finest and safest carriers, has accepted full responsibility for the crash, which occurred when the pilot manoeuvred his plane for take-off from a runway which had been closed for repairs. The Boeing 747-400 collided with mechanical construction equipment as it was lifting off, broke up into three pieces, and quickly caught fire. Of the 179 passengers and crew on board, 81 were killed and 98 injured.

Compensation claims in air disasters are governed by the Warsaw Convention, which imposes a $75,000 per passenger limit on the liability of airlines. But families can seek more if the air carrier is shown to have engaged in wilful misconduct, such as poor security, staff training or maintenance.

In 1997, a passenger jet operated by SIA's subsidiary, Silk Air, crashed mysteriously into a swamp in the Indonesian island of Sumatra, possibly as its pilot committed suicide. Bereaved families of that disaster were offered $200,000 each.

Families of those who died in this year's Concorde disaster are currently seeking compensation of up to £200m from Air France through the German courts.

In the Taiwan crash, transcripts of the radio conversation between the pilot, Captain C K Foong, and the control tower, show he was clearly informed of the runway from which he was to take off and repeated the information correctly.

The investigation now under way will seek to establish whether the error was solely his, or whether the authorities at Taipei's Chiang Kai-shek International airport were negligent in marking off the closed runway from the open one which ran alongside it.

At the time of the crash there was an intense rainstorm, the precursor to a typhoon that swept Taiwan causing at least 62 deaths. It is thought poor visibility played a part in Captain Foong's mistake.

The air traffic controllers were physically unable to see the SIA plane, and the airport is not equipped with ground radar which would have revealed the error. The suspended runway was not completely blocked to planes and some of its lights were illuminated, since part of it was being used as a parking area for planes waiting to take off. A warning light and barrier at one end might have been invisible to the cockpit crew in Tuesday's poor conditions.

But Taiwan's Civil Aeronautics Administration, which runs the airport, pointed out yesterday that both Captain Foong and his two co-pilots had been informed in September that it had been closed. All three have been barred from leaving Taiwan.

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