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Five years after Halifax, claim still outstanding

A memorial for the 229 victims near the crash site at Peggy's Cove

(Keystone)

Tuesday marked the fifth anniversary of the crash of Swissair Flight 111 over Halifax in Nova Scotia, which killed all 229 people on board.

All but one claim for compensation against the former national carrier has now been resolved.

Families of the victims filed a total of 192 claims against Swissair, the last of which is still being negotiated in the United States between lawyers and Swissair’s insurance company.

None of the parties involved in the compensation claims are willing to disclose any figures.

What is known is that in October 1998 - a month after the crash - Swissair paid out SFr4.7 million ($3.32 million) to 156 families. The following March, the airline paid each of the victims’ families SFr195,000.

Cornelia Weisskopf-Ganz of Wenger Plattner, the law firm that oversaw Swissair’s liquidation, said the collapse of the former national airline had not affected claims because it was covered by its insurance policy.

No precise reason for the crash has so far been found.

An inquiry published by the Canadian authorities in March found that an electrical fault, which caused a fire in the cockpit, was the probable cause of the crash and said the pilots were not to blame.

In the flight's final moments, the pilots reported smoke in the cockpit and dumped fuel in the ocean before trying to reach Halifax for an emergency landing.

Canadian experts took years to arrive at this conclusion, after examining two million pieces of debris fished out of the sea at the crash site.

Safety measures

American and Canadian aviation authorities didn’t wait for the findings of the inquiry to propose new safety measures.

In January 1999, they published a list of 50 recommended measures for type MD-11 aircraft.

These included the installation of smoke alarms, infrared cameras and additional fire extinguishers.

Swissair - now replaced by Swiss - adopted these measures at a cost of several million francs.

The type of inflight entertainment system used on board the MD-11 was installed only in Swissair planes and in a limited number of aircraft belonging to the Italian national carrier, Alitalia.

Swiss is now in the process of replacing all 13 of its MD-11s still in service with Airbus A340s. The last MD-11 is due to be removed from its fleet by the end of 2004.

The Halifax accident, and a number of other plane crashes over the past five years, prompted transport minister Moritz Leuenberger to introduce in August a new set of security measures for the entire Swiss fleet.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Swissair Flight 111 was flying from New York to Geneva when it crashed in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Canada.
A total of 192 claims have been filed against the former national carrier and are being paid out by its insurance company.
The inquiry into the crash found that the accident was likely to have been caused by an electrical fire in the cockpit.

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