Ruling shifts blame in 2001 CASA crash; timing raises suspicions
A provincial court in Spain has shifted blame for a fatal crash of a CASA CN-235 passenger plane.
Eyewitnesses, survivors, crew and a preliminary investigation said at the time that engine failure was the reason for the crash of the Binter Mediterranean plane that went down at Málaga airport on 29 August 2001.
They credited the pilot, who died of his injuries, of heroically landing the plane after the one engine had caught fire and the second lost its power. The new ruling holds the deceased pilot and co-pilot responsible, even though a government report acknowledged the engine fire. An earlier ruling blamed the co-pilot for shutting down both engines.
According to the BBC, the CN-235 had a "poor safety record" in 2001.
A total of 41 people died on three separate CN-235 crashes that year, in addition to the four who died in Málaga. At least two of the crashes were due to equipment failure, but Casacrash.com has not been able to find the accident reports.
However, on 28 July 2006, the Audiencia Provincial of Málaga pronounced that the crash was due to "grave human error."
The accident "was the product of grave negligent action on the part of the crew that piloted the airplane" ("fue producto de una grave actuación de negligencia de la tripulación que pilotaba el avión"), according to the ruling.
The decision was in response to a suit by families of the passengers who died in the wreck and by survivors. It pins legal blame on the airline, but apparently does not absolve the manufacturer.
The timing is suspicious, as the state-owned manufacturer, Construcciónes Aeronaúticas, S.A. (CASA) is involved in a double-controversy of its own concerning the same aircraft.
CASA and European Aeronautic Defense and Space (EADS) appear close to failing to fulfill the Spanish company's largest-ever military export of CN-235s and stretch C-295s to Venezuela. EADS CASA, as the consortium is called, is unable to find replacements for all of the key United States-made components in the aircraft.
The Bush administration has invoked a law to prevent Spain from selling the aircraft to Venezuela, which is under a U.S. military embargo. Critics say EADS CASA is purposely skirting an U.S. anti-proliferation law, which could result in the company being ineligible to compete to build the next-generation Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA) for the U.S. Department of Defense. The contract is said to be worth billions of dollars.
Defense analysts on Capitol Hill say they are concerned that EADS CASA has been playing up the safety records of the CN-235 and C-295, without informing lawmakers about fatal accidents.
That's why the Spanish court decision is raising eyebrows in Washington. "It's suspicious, to say the least," a former U.S. Senate staffer tells Casacrash.com. "A big state-owned aircraft company, with billions of dollars in exports at stake, gets a provincial judgment against a small airline."
The former Senate aide raised questions about whether EADS might have used its considerable financial, political and legal might to reach a conveniently timed, favorable verdict. The company's stock has plummeted this year amid corporate scandals at the top, failure to fulfill commercial Airbus orders, and a possible inability to fulfill its CASA military sale to Venezuela. Now the company is under fire in Washington for breaking a U.S. embargo.
The Málaga provincial court determined that the Binter crash was "product of the grave and negligent action of those who crewed the airplane on that day," based on the testimony of expert witnesses.
The government's Commission to Investigate Aerial Accidents (Comisión de Investigación de Accidentes Aéreos) issued a report saying the crew carried out "incorrect" emergency procedures after the engine caught fire or was damaged.
For coverage of the court's decision, which multiplied damages against Binter by ten, see the Málaga newspaper report, in Spanish, at the following link: http://www.diariomalagahoy.com/diariomalagahoy/articulo.asp?idart=3062346&idcat=2830