French court fines Yemenia Airways for 2009 plane crash

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Airline was found guilty of crash that killed 154 people and ordered to pay compensation to lone survivor and victims’ families.

A French court has ruled that Yemen’s national airline, Yemenia, is guilty of involuntary homicide for a 2009 Indian Ocean plane crash that killed 152 people, leaving only one survivor.

The court ordered Yemenia to pay a 225,000 euros ($224,500) fine, as well as one million euros ($998,000) in damages and legal costs to the lone survivor and the families of 65 French citizens who were killed.

“French justice has acknowledged that Yemenia committed serious mistakes,” said Said Assoumani, the head of a victims’ families association. “The ruling is excellent and consistent with our expectations.”

The company denied responsibility, but its executives did not attend the hearing, citing Yemen’s civil war. Yemenia’s lawyers said they would appeal.

Yemenia had flown passengers from Paris to the Yemeni capital Sanaa, via the southern French city of Marseille.

A total of 142 passengers and 11 crew members then boarded flight 626 to continue to Moroni, the capital of Comoros, an island nation off Africa’s east coast.

The ageing Airbus A310 crashed about 15 kilometres (9 miles) off the Comorian coast on June 30, 2009, while attempting to land in strong winds. A total of 152 people were killed, the majority of them from Comoros.

France has a large Comorian diaspora.

Yemenia was charged in the Paris court with “manslaughter and unintentional injuries”. The trial in the civil case ended in June.

The lone survivor of the crash, Bahia Bakari, whose mother died in the incident, said that she was relieved by the court’s decision, but that it would not erase the trauma and grief she has suffered.

“It’s something that has impacted me, that will impact me all my life,” Bakari said after the verdict was issued.

Bakari, who was 12 years old at the time of the crash, survived by clinging to floating debris from the plane for 11 hours before being rescued. She suffered a broken collarbone, a broken hip, burns and other injuries.

Now 25, Bakari gave powerful testimony in a packed Paris courtroom in May, earning praise for her bravery from judges and lawyers.

Other witnesses slammed what they claimed was the poor state of air travel from Yemen, which has since been embroiled in a brutal civil war. Some claimed Yemenia was more interested in profits than in taking care of its passengers.

A lawyer for the victims’ families, Said Larifou, denounced the operation of passenger planes that he claimed were “flying coffins”.

In 2015, two French courts that oversaw civil proceedings ordered Yemenia to pay more than 30 million euros ($31.6 million) to the victims’ families, who deplored the slowness of the proceedings between France and the Comoros, a former colony that became independent in 1975.

The airline in 2018 signed a confidential agreement with 835 beneficiaries, who had to wait several more years to receive compensation.

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