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Sun, Jul 04, 2004

Russian Families Sue US Companies for Plane Crash

TCAS gives pilots correct instructions, controller does not, but lawyer says TCAS at fault... sound familiar?

The families of six Russians who perished as a result of a mid-air collision over Germany have decided to sue Honeywell and other aviation equipment manufacturers in the US, blaming the TCAS systems on both aircraft for the crash that killed 71 people in 2002. This, even though all investigations have pointed to an error on the part of the Swiss controller -- had the pilots both followed the TCAS commands, there would have been no accident.

A total of thirty Russian families have filed suit against Honeywell and four other companies. The six lawsuits, filed Thursday in Miami, allege that the companies failed to provide adequate procedures, instructions and training.

The Bashkirian Airlines Tu-154 collided with a DHL International cargo aircraft on July 1, 2002 less than a minute after receiving a radio transmission from the one and only controller on duty at the Zurich ATC center. The Russian jet was transporting 45 students and their families to Barcelona, Spain.

The lawsuit claims that the collision warning system told the Russian jet to climb while the Swiss controller told it to descend. Instead of following the correct command from the TCAS collision avoidance system, the Russian pilot followed the controller's instructions and descended. At the same time, the DHL pilot was correctly commanded twice by the TCAS system to descend. Obviously, had both pilots followed the commands of the TCAS systems, there would not have been a mid-air collision.

Nevertheless, Gustavo Fuentes, a Miami attorney representing the families behind the six lawsuits, claims that "the Russian pilots did not have sufficiently clear instructions as to what to do when this alarm system started to give them instructions at the same time that the air traffic controller was giving them conflicting instructions."

Honeywell International has released a statement where it said it had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment on it. However, the company has reiterated that the investigation into the crash concluded that the TCAS equipment functioned properly, and that the only reasonable explanation was that the accident was the pilots' fault for failing to follow the system's commands.

According to Fuentes, more lawsuits were to be filed in California, New York, New Jersey, and Washington.

The controller on duty in 2002 was Peter Nielsen -- he was fatally stabbed outside his home on Feb. 24. Swiss police arrested a Russian architect whose wife, son and daughter died in the crash.

FMI: www.honeywell.com, www.bal.ufanet.ru (Russian-language Bahkirian Airlines site)

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