Reuters International

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - The families of six cabin crew aboard ill-fated Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 sued the airline on Thursday for negligence and breach of contract, nearly two years after the plane was downed over eastern Ukraine.

Flight MH17 was en route from Amsterdam to the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down in July 2014, killing all 298 passengers and crew.

The aircraft was shot down by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile, the Dutch Safety Board concluded in a report last year, but did not identify any responsible party or group.

The suit, filed in the Kuala Lumpur High Court by 11 relatives of the crew, named as defendants Malaysian Airline System (MAS) and Malaysia Airlines Berhad, which replaced MAS in a restructuring exercise last year.

"We are suing them for negligence because they failed to take seriously the warnings of the possible dangers that they may have faced," the families' lawyer, Balan Nair, told reporters.

In the lawsuit, which Balan said he believed to be the first filed by families in Malaysia, the relatives allege the airline was in breach of contract for failing to ensure the safety, health and well-being of its crew.

They also allege MAS was negligent in failing to conduct an adequate risk assessment and for charting a flight course through a known conflict zone.

Fighting was raging between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian government forces when the aircraft was downed over the rebel-held territory of Donetsk.

"Had they been more careful in choosing what path to take, they could have avoided this," Balan added.

Malaysia Airlines said it would be inappropriate to comment on ongoing litigation, and had yet to be served with the suit.

"We would like to reiterate the finding of the report by the Dutch Safety Board, which states that the way in which MAS prepared and operated the flight complied with International Civil Aviation Organization regulations," it told Reuters in an emailed statement.

One of the relatives said his sister, flight attendant Chong Yee Pheng, had worked for the airline for 18 years.

"The families of all the victims of MH17 deserve to be treated with humanity, compassion and respect," Chong Seng See said in a statement. "I hope MAS will do right by them."

More suits are expected before a two-year deadline for legal action expires on July 17.

Last month, an Australian firm filed a $330-million compensation claim against Russia, and its president, Vladimir Putin, on behalf of 33 families of MH17 passengers and crew.

(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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