September 15, 2022 By Masha Macpherson And Barbara Surk, The Associated Press
PARIS (AP) — A French court on Wednesday ordered a Yemeni airline that operated a passenger plane that crashed into the Indian Ocean in 2009 to pay damages to the flight’s lone survivor and the families of 65 French citizens who died.
The Yemenia flight departed from Paris, picked up more passengers in the southern French city of Marseille and made a stopover in Sanaa, Yemen, where 142 passengers and 11 crew members boarded another plane to continue to the capital of Comoros, an island nation off Africa’s east coast.
The aging Airbus A310 crashed about 15 kilometers (9 miles) off the Comorian coast on June 30, 2009 while attempting to land in strong wind. A total of 152 people were killed, a majority of them from Comoros.
Yemenia, which is the flagship carrier of Yemen, was charged in the Paris court with “manslaughter and unintentional injuries.” The trial in the civil case ended in June.
The company had denied responsibility. But the court ordered Yemenia to pay a total of 225,000 euros ($237,000) in damages to the survivor, Bahia Bakari, and to the families of the French victims. Yemenia’s lawyers said they would appeal.
Bakari, whose mother died in the crash, said she was relieved by the court’s decision but that it would not erase the trauma and grief she has suffered.
“It’s something that has impacted me, that will impact me all my life,” Bakari told The Associated Press after the verdict was issued.
Bakari, who was 12 years old at the time of crash, survived by clinging to floating debris from the plane for 11 hours before being rescued. She suffered a broken collarbone, a broken hip, burns and other injuries.
Now 25, Bakari gave powerful testimony in a packed Paris courtroom in May, earning praise for her bravery from judges and lawyers.
Other witnesses slammed what they claimed was the poor state of air travel from Yemen, which has since been embroiled in a brutal civil war. Some claimed Yemenia was more interested in profits than in taking care of its passengers.
A lawyer for the victims’ families, Said Larifou, denounced the operation of passenger planes that he claimed were “flying coffins.”
In 2015, two French courts that oversaw civil proceedings ordered Yemenia to pay more than 30 million euros ($31.6 million) to the victims’ families, who deplored the slowness of the proceedings between France and the Comoros, a former colony that became independent in 1975.
The airline in 2018 signed a confidential agreement with 835 beneficiaries, who had to wait several more years to receive compensation.
Surk reported from Nice, France