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Swissair Flight 111 pretrial conference begins in U.S.

A pretrial conference began in the United States on Thursday to sort out procedural technicalities of the lawsuits against Swissair and other defendants in connection with the Swissair MD-11 crash last year.

A pretrial conference began in the United States on Thursday to sort out procedural technicalities of the lawsuits against Swissair and other defendants in connection with the Swissair MD-11 crash in which all 229 people were killed off Nova Scotia last September.

The conference was taking place at the U.S. District Court of Philadelphia and also involved defendants Boeing, which owns the company that manufactures the MD-11 plane; Delta Air Lines, which had a ticket-sharing arrangement with Swissair; and Inflight Technologies, which provided the plane’s electronic entertainment system.

Chief Judge James T. Giles was to assess, among other things, which evidence can be used in the trial and what the undisputed facts in the case will be.

Swissair faces claims totalling $16 billion from families of U.S. victims who are suing on grounds of gross negligence. Switzerland’s biggest air carrier said it had reached out-of-court settlements with relatives of five victims.

The pretrial conference is only one of several steps in the full legal process, which could take years.

“The actual trial will take place after this significant and time-consuming procedure,” said a Swissair spokesman, declining to speculate on how long the pretrial phase could last.

Since the crash last year, Canada's Transportation Safety Board has spent thousands of hours poring over millions of pieces of data to determine its cause. A report of TSB's findings is expected in the second half of next year.

Swissair said it was actively supporting the Canadian authorities with their probe.

Among the data being checked is a flight report filed from the same airplane on August 10, 1998 in which cabin staff reported "a strange, pungent odour that occurred in waves" near the first class galley. Crew from that flight were flown to Canada to try to identify the odour through various tests.

As a voluntary precaution, Swissair has shut off a high-tech entertainment system called IFEN after investigators found evidence of heat-damaged wires in part of the ceiling where wiring for IFEN and many other systems were placed.

The plane crashed into the Atlantic about eight km (five miles) off the hamlet of Peggy's Cove in Nova Scotia as it tried to make an emergency landing at Halifax International Airport.

Just minutes before the crash, the flight crew reported smoke in the cockpit


From staff and wire reports.






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