Crash of Yemenia flight 626: 13 years later, the company's trial opens in Paris

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For four weeks, French justice will examine suspicions of “failures and negligence” by Yemenia Airways, which operated the plane that crashed in June 2009 off the Comoros, killing 152 people. A 12-year-old girl, who had survived by remaining clinging at sea for eleven hours to a piece of debris, must testify.

The trial for manslaughter and involuntary injury of the company Yemenia opens Monday, May 9 in Paris, almost thirteen years after the crash of a plane off the Comoros which killed 152 people and left a single survivor aged 12 years.

Dozens of relatives of the victims are expected at 1:30 p.m. in front of the criminal court in the capital and also in Marseille, where part of the trial is broadcast for those, many, who live in the region.

The civil parties nevertheless risk facing an empty bench of defendants: no representative of the Yemeni national company should be present, according to the defense, because of the war which is tearing the country apart.

66 French on the plane

On the night of June 29 to 30, 2009, Yemenia flight 626 crashed off the Comoros, just before landing in Moroni, with 11 crew members and 142 passengers on board, including 66 French.

Only a 12-year-old girl, Bahia Bakari, survived by clinging to debris at sea for eleven hours before being rescued by a fishing boat.

For four weeks, French justice will examine suspicions of “failures and negligence” by Yemenia Airways, which operated the flight. The company, which disputes the facts, incurs a fine of 225,000 euros.

“Thirteen years is a long time: it’s psychologically and morally and even physically exhausting,” Said Assoumani, president of the victims’ association, told AFP. “But after thirteen years of waiting and impatience, finally the criminal trial is here.”

“Loss of control”

The black boxes had been fished out a few weeks after this crash, the most serious in the history of the Comoros archipelago, between Mozambique and Madagascar, but the investigation remained bogged down for a long time.

The French authorities for a time criticized their Comorian counterparts for their non-cooperation, while the families of the victims accused Yemen of exerting pressure to prevent the questioning of its national company.

The instruction finally concluded that the state of the device, an Airbus left the factory in 1990, was not in question, nor the weather, the lightning or a missile. According to the expert reports, based in particular on the flight recorders, the accident was due to “inappropriate actions by the crew during the approach to Moroni airport, leading to the loss of control of the aircraft “.

“Beyond these dramatic errors attributable to the pilots”, however, Yemenia has “failed in many respects”, estimated the investigating magistrates. The company is accused of having maintained night flights to Moroni, despite the long-standing breakdown of the airport beacon lights, as well as “shortcomings” in pilot training, described as “lacunary”.

“Trash planes”

“Yemenia remains deeply marked by this disaster, in particular for the victims, nevertheless it protests its innocence by indicating that it is in no way responsible for the facts which intervened”, supports its lawyer Me Léon-Lef Forster. “There were malfunctions, but which are not attributable to him and which will appear during the hearing”, he assures.

The young miracle, who lost her mother in the crash, must testify on May 23. Over the course of reports and in a book, Bahia Bakari described having felt, as he approached the airport, “turbulence”, having been “electrified” then having had a “black hole” before finding himself in the ‘water.

The trial will also be that of “the ‘trash planes’, the trial of shortcomings, of irresponsibility, which means that, with the race for profits, we arrive at tragedies”, wants to believe Saïd Assoumani.

The French passengers had boarded in Paris and Marseille before changing planes in Sanaa, Yemen. At the time of the accident, the conditions of travel between France and the Comoros, via Yemen, had been denounced for a long time by passengers.

The absence of a representative of the company “can only leave the families and the surviving victim with a bitter taste”, considers Me Sébastien Busy, lawyer for the Fenvac association, civil party.

With AFP

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