Relatives of some of the 2004 Baotou air crash victims have filed a lawsuit with a court in Beijing, seeking 11.75 million U.S. dollars in compensation, a sum agreed in a pre-court arrangement of the same case in the U.S., according to the plaintiffs lawyer on Thursday.
The plaintiffs lawyer Hao Junbo said he represented families of 32 victims in the accident. He filed the lawsuit with the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People's Court. On average, each family sued for some 367,000 U.S. dollars in compensation, which is unprecedented in China.
Xinhua's sources with the court confirmed the receipt of the appeal, but said that it has not yet put it on record to go through the court procedures.
The victims' relatives had previously used a U.S. jurisdiction law to lodge the lawsuit with a California court in 2005, against China Eastern Airlines, carrier in the air crash that happened in Baotou, an industrial city of one million people in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, in 2004.
Also named in the lawsuit were Canada-based Bombardier, which designed and sold the plane's frame, and the U.S.-based General Electric, which manufactured the plane's turbojet engine.
Thursday's Beijing Morning Post quoted Hao as saying that the victims' families have reached a pre-court arrangement with the plane manufacturers on the sum of compensation plus interest accrued over several years of delay. China Eastern Airlines insisted on settling the case in China.
The tragedy happened on Nov. 21, 2004, when the 50-seat plane plummeted into the frozen lake of Nanhai Park in Baotou just a few seconds after take-off, killing all 47 passengers and six crew on board and another two people on the ground. The plane, a Canadian-made Bombardier CRJ-200, was headed for Shanghai.
After the disaster, the Civil Aviation Authorities of China issued a circular grounding all 29 Bombardier CRJ-200 jets owned by seven airlines on the Chinese mainland. The sanction was later lifted after the investigation into the accident was completed.
Investigators found that the wings of the plane, which had stayed overnight at the airport in Baotou, were caked with frost. No de-frost procedure was done before take-off, which was attributable to the pilot's failure.
Experts held China Eastern responsible for the accident, as the airline operator neglected daily safety management measures. "There were flaws in the safety link," said former Chinese Vice Premier Huang Ju at the 2004national aviation work conference, when speaking on the accident.
A total of 12 senior officials in the airline company were punished for the accident, including chairman of the company, Li Fenghua.
The airline company has agreed to compensate 210,000 yuan (about 27,000 U.S. dollars based on the exchange rate of 1 U.S. dollar equivalent to 7.8 yuan) to each victim, based on China's 1993 standard concerning regulations on air crash compensation.
But the offer was rejected by most of the victims' families. They claimed that China's average income rose by over four times from 1993 to 2003, and the airline company's revenue soared by six times during the period. The compensation standard was too low, compared with the rise in incomes over that period, they argued.
China raised air crash compensation to 400,000 yuan (51,000 U.S. dollars based on exchange rate of 1 U.S. dollar equivalent to7.8 yuan) per person in 2006.
"However, the standard will not suit for the settlement of the Baotou case, since the standard was referred in the compensation of air crash accidents that occurred after February 28, 2006," explained Zhang Qihuai, a lawyer with the Beijing Lawyers Association.