JUNE 21, 2002 FRI
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SIA told to hand over crash data

US court throws out SIA's petition that documents are confidential, stressing the need to facilitate the discovery process

By Karamjit Kaur
TRANSPORT CORRESPONDENT

A LOS Angeles court has ordered

 

Singapore Airlines (SIA) to surrender several documents relating to the SQ 006 crash in Taipei to the Chicago-based Nolan Law Group.

 

The law firm represents 44 survivors and their families, including several Singaporeans and SIA crew members, and has accused the airline of withholding the documents.

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These contain information from the flight data recorder; names, addresses and statements of eye-witnesses; notes from SIA employees involved in the crash investigation; statements from crew members and notes from interviews with them; maintenance records and training video tapes.

The airline sent in a petition to the United States court saying that it was not going to hand in the documents because the information they contained was secret.

It also claimed that, under guidelines of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), it was not obliged to hand the papers over to the Nolan Group.

But the court threw out the petition early yesterday morning (Singapore time).

The airline now has two options: To appeal or comply with the ruling.

Mr Donald Nolan, the law firm's principal trial lawyer, said that SIA has 28 days from the time the judgment was filed in court to decide.

In a telephone interview with The Straits Times shortly after the court proceedings ended, he said: 'We have gathered more than 30,000 pages of documents to date, but the most important documents have not yet been produced.'

None of his clients have taken up SIA's compensation offer of US$400,000 (S$713,000) for the families of those who died, and US$20,000 for survivors of the crash.

In all, 83 passengers and crew were killed when SQ 006 crashed while taking off from Taipei's Chiang Kai-shek International Airport on Oct 31, 2000.

The plane was carrying 179 passengers, 28 of them Singaporeans.

The Boeing 747-400 burst into flames and broke into three pieces when it ploughed into a concrete block and a construction crane on the runway.

In rejecting the airline's petition yesterday, the court ruled that the ICAO guidelines did not apply because Taiwan, which conducted the investigations, was not a member of the body.

Mr Nolan said that the US magistrate also found that facilitating the discovery process was more important than maintaining confidentiality.

When contacted, SIA would only say: 'We do not comment on matters concerning litigation.'

Meanwhile, SQ 006 pilot Foong Chee Kong, 43, has also been ordered to appear in a Los Angeles court to give a deposition, where his testimony will be taken down in writing under oath.

So far, said Mr Nolan, he has not made an appearance. The lawyer claimed that it was because the pilot feared incriminating himself.

But now that the Taiwanese authorities have said that they will not prosecute the pilots, a source close to Captain Foong said: 'He'll very likely go to Los Angeles to give his deposition, but I don't know when this might be.'

Asked if it would produce the pilot for the deposition, SIA declined to comment.

  
 

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http://straitstimes.asia1.com.sg/singapore/story/0,1870,127396,00.html

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