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Court finds Airbus, Air France liable for 1992 crash


COLMAR, France—A French criminal court Tuesday found Airbus and Air France civilly liable for an airplane crash that killed 87 near Strasbourg in 1992, but it acquitted five former aviation officials and a former Airbus executive on all charges in the case.

The court ordered the companies to pay compensation to victims' families for their pain and suffering, a total amount of about €500,000 ($639,830) to be divided among the 350 members of Entraide de la Catastrophe des Hauteurs du Sainte-Odile, the association representing families in the case.

On January 20, 1992, an Air Inter Airbus A320 carrying 96 passengers and crew from Lyon to Strasbourg slammed into a ridge near Mont Saint-Odile close to the German border, on its landing approach in cloudy twilit conditions. Air Inter, now defunct, was a subsidiary of Air France.

In the trial, which began in May in the city of Colmar, the court considered arguments that the plane or its navigation and computer systems were flawed, that the pilots had inadequate experience flying the A320, and that air traffic control was negligent. Pilot error, at fault in two previous A320 crashes, was also cited in the Mont Sainte-Odile crash, which killed both pilots.

The six defendants - Airbus's former technical director, Bernard Ziegler, two former civil aviation officials, two Air Inter officials, and an air-traffic controller - had faced prison sentences of up to two years on charges of involuntary manslaughter.

ECHO has two civil cases pending in European and French courts, in which it is demanding €14 million ($17.9 million) in compensation for what it calls excessive delays in the criminal case.