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French prosecutors launch air crash appeal


COLMAR, France— French prosecutors have filed an appeal of a November 7 criminal court verdict that exonerated six former aviation officials of criminal responsibility in the 1992 crash of an Airbus A320 that killed 87 in the eastern city of Strasbourg.

Families of victims of the crash and Airbus have already filed separate appeals in the complex case, for which a verdict took more than 14 years.

"I filed an appeal against all the defendants because we believe that when a civil party appeals a decision, the court should be able to reexamine all the details of the case," Prosecutor Pascal Schultz said in announcing the appeal.

On January 20, 1992, the Air Inter Airbus A 320 carrying 96 passengers and crew from Lyon to Strasbourg slammed into a ridge near Mont Sainte-Odile close to the German border, on its landing approach in cloudy twilit conditions. Air Inter, now defunct, was an Air France subsidiary.

In its decision, the Colmar criminal court found Airbus and Air France civilly liable for the crash, but it acquitted the defendants — Airbus's former technical director, Bernard Ziegler, two former civil aviation officials, two Air Inter officials, and an air-traffic controller — on charges of involuntary manslaughter. They had faced prison sentences of up to two years.

The court ordered the companies to pay an as yet undetermined amount of compensation to victims' families for their pain and suffering, to be divided among the 350 members of Entraide de la Catastrophe des Hauteurs du Sainte-Odile, the association representing families in the case.

It also ordered the companies to pay € 500,000 ($654,597) to ECHO for its legal expenses.

In the trial, which began in May, 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.

ECHO has two civil cases pending in European and French courts, in which it is demanding € 14 million ($17.5 million) in compensation for what it calls excessive delays in the criminal case.