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Martinique: Human error likely in ’05 plane crash

Date: 10/9/2008 9:35 PM

Associated Press Writer

FORT-DE-FRANCE, Martinique (AP) _ An ongoing investigation into a 2005 plane crash that killed 152 people from Martinique suggests that human error and not faulty maintenance was to blame, the island’s prosecutor told the victims’ relatives on Thursday.

One expert found that West Caribbean Airways — despite financial problems — provided regular maintenance to the McDonnell Douglas MD-82 plane that crashed three years ago, Claude Bellanger said during a meeting to update relatives on the investigation.

He said investigators believe the pilots lost speed when they tried to quickly ascend to avoid a cluster of storm clouds.

“They were in a zone … that they never should have entered,” Bellanger said.

An initial analysis of the plane’s black box recorders suggests the pilots did not react appropriately when they tried to stabilize the plane as it went into a three-minute free fall, he said.

Another expert is still analyzing whether human error played a part, Bellanger said.

Authorities have previously said the jet’s engines were running when it crashed and that the pilots had talked about weather conditions and possibly turning on the deicers.

Olivier Berisson, president of the Association of Victim’s Families, rejected Bellanger’s explanations.

“It is nonetheless surprising that there were no maintenance problems with a company that had two crashes in the same year,” he said.

A West Caribbean Airways plane crashed in March 2005 after taking off from Colombia’s Providencia Island, killing eight people. Five months later, on Aug. 16, one of its charter jets en route from Panama crashed in Venezuela, killing 160 people, the majority of whom were tourists from Martinique.

A Fort-de-France court recently ordered the airline to pay US$3.7 million to the families of 28 victims. Compensations would vary: A victim’s nephew could receive US$8,000 while a parent or child could get US$54,000.

The court also ordered an additional US$27,000 to be paid for the suffering passengers endured during the free fall.

Berisson has qualified the compensations as “completely unacceptable” and the victims’ relatives have pledged to fight for a higher amount.

Alain Manville, an attorney representing the airlines’ insurance company, has said he would likely seek an appeal.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.

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