Claim against Skyguide filed in Switzerland

The crash near Überlingen took place in Swiss airspace Keystone Archive

The families of 30 victims who died in an air crash in Swiss-controlled airspace over Germany in 2002 have filed a civil suit against Skyguide in Switzerland.

This content was published on May 21, 2005 - 16:08

The claim comes after an attempt to file the suit in Barcelona was reportedly rejected by the Spanish courts.

The two planes - a Bashkirian Airlines plane and a DHL cargo jet - collided over southern Germany on July 1, 2002, near the town of Überlingen. The crash killed all 71 on board, including many Russian children.

Skyguide, the Swiss air traffic control agency, said on Friday that the claim was being made in the name of the families by American law firm Podhurst.

According to media reports, a suit filed by Podhurst in Barcelona in February has been rejected by Spanish judges on the grounds that the claim was not within the court’s competence. The Miami-based law firm filed the suit in Spain as it was the final destination of the Bashkirian Airlines plane.

Skyguide lawyer Alexander von Ziegler said he had encouraged the relatives to file the claim in Switzerland. He said that this was because the families would otherwise only be eligible for $27,000 (SFr33,303) in damages per passenger as is usually the case under international air traffic regulations.

Settlements have already been made with Skyguide by other families. The families of 28 victims reached an agreement with the agency last June, while an earlier settlement with the relatives of 15 victims was signed in November 2003.

Compensation has been reported to be between $100,000 and $150,000 per victim.

Partial responsibility

A report from Germany’s Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau published last year partially blamed Swiss air traffic control for the accident. But it also said that the crash was caused primarily by human error.

The report found that the air-traffic controller on duty at the time gave the planes instructions to avoid a collision only 43 seconds before impact.

It added that the crew of the Bashkirian Airlines jet obeyed the controller’s instruction to descend, but failed to listen to their on-board collision warning system, which advised them to climb.

Skyguide came in for criticism for having only one controller in charge of air-traffic surveillance at the time of the crash. The company has since admitted responsibility for the chain of events that led to the accident.

The controller was stabbed to death in front of his wife in February last year. The Swiss authorities said on Thursday that his alleged killer, a 49-year-old Russian architect who lost his family in the crash, would stand trial for manslaughter.

Meanwhile, investigations into the collision by Switzerland and Germany are still continuing.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

On July 1, 2002, a Tupolev passenger plane collided with a cargo jet near Überlingen in southern Germany in Swiss-controlled airspace.

The Bashkirian Airlines jet was travelling from Russia to Spain, and the DHL aircraft from Italy to Belgium.

All 71 passengers and crew on both aircraft were killed in the crash, including 54 children.

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