Lawsuit over 2004 air crash under way in Beijing
Updated: 2012-10-11 00:19
By ZHAO YINAN and CAO YIN (China Daily)
Families seek 132m yuan from three companies
A Chinese court has begun to hear a class action lawsuit brought by the relatives of 32 people killed in a 2004 air crash.
Families affected by the incident are suing three companies for a total of 132 million yuan ($21 million) and a public apology.
They also want the accident investigation report to be released to the public, and a stone memorial placed at the crash site, in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region.
Hao Junbo, the plaintiffs' lawyer, said he was optimistic after the first two-hour hearing at Beijing No 2 Intermediate People's Court, held on Tuesday.
Although the court did not allow the families to attend the proceedings in order to avoid emotional scenes, he said some of the victims' relatives had been encouraged by how the case is progressing.
It is not known when the second hearing will take place, the lawyer said.
A spokesman for the court declined to comment on Wednesday.
A China Eastern Airlines flight crashed less than a minute after takeoff from an airport in Baotou on Nov 21, 2004. All 54 people aboard and one person on the ground were killed.
The victims' families originally filed their lawsuit in the United States against Canada-based Bombardier Aerospace, which made the airplane, General Motors, which made the engine, and the airline.
A compensation settlement was initially agreed to by all three companies, but was later rejected by China Eastern, prompting the US judge hearing the case to suggest the plaintiffs take their fight to a Chinese court.
Hao said the lawsuit was filed in Beijing in 2009, and is the first class action case concerning an air crash ever heard in China.
The lawyer predicted the case will encourage more relatives of people killed or injured in similar incidents to take legal action.
"I've seen the sorrow the families have gone through, ever since I started to represent them in 2004," he said. "The case means more than economic help for these people."
China Daily was unable to contact attorneys for Bombardier, GM and China Eastern before going to press on Wednesday.
In 2004, China Eastern offered 210,000 yuan to each family affected by the accident. However, many rejected the sum, saying it was too low.
Tang Ranming, whose 28-year-old nephew died in the crash, and whose family is among the 32 plaintiffs, said he has paid close attention to the case.
"My nephew's mother called me when she heard the news (of the accident) on TV," said Tang, who lives in Wuxi, Jiangsu province. "I immediately took her and my nephew's wife to see the list of victims at China Eastern Airlines' headquarters in Shanghai."
When the two women saw his name on the list, both almost fainted, he said.
"My nephew was on a business trip in Baotou and told his mother he would come back the day before the accident," he said, sobbing.
The dead man's son, who was born shortly before the 2004 tragedy, is now at school, although he still has not been told what happened to his father.
"I've been sensitive to information about the crash over the past eight years," he added. "What I'm most concerned about is the reason for the accident, which has still not been revealed."
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