The world was saddened to hear of the devastating Colombian aircraft crash which lead to the death of 71 people on 29 November 2016. The flight was chartered to take members of the Brazilian soccer team, Chapecoense, and journalists to the Copa Sudamericana final in Medellin.
It has been reported that the aircraft accident was caused by the plane running out of fuel. Such aircraft accidents are extremely rare and will no doubt lead to criminal charges and compensation claims, as Megan Sault explains.
It is reported that the pilot of doomed flight LaMia 2933 warned air traffic control that he had run out of fuel and that the airplane had gone into total electric failure shortly before reaching Medellin airport. The flight is reported to have circled in a holding pattern until it was met with its tragic fate and crashed into a tall mountainside in the Andes.
Remarkably, six passengers of the flight were rescued from the plane’s wreckage and are alive despite their injuries, which ranged from loss of limbs to psychological conditions.
Survivor of the crash, Mr Erwin Tumiri, has described to the media the chaotic scene that unfolded in the plane’s final moments in the air before its rapid decline. Mr Tumiri believes that listening to the safety briefing saved his life. He notes that he was able to manoeuvre himself into a ‘brace’ position which prevented him from flying forward and striking the seat in front of him, thereby limiting the impact that his body suffered from the force of the crash.
What Caused the Tragedy?
The investigations into the circumstances of the accident are premature and are likely to continue for several months. However, there are a number of theories that are being explored by authorities and reporters alike including the following:
- Lack of fuel
The final fatal moments captured by the cockpit recording support the theory that the jetliner ran out of fuel. This is further supported with the fact that the plane did not explode on impact with the mountain, suggesting lack of combustible fuel onboard.
- Pilot error
The pilot of the doomed flight has been heavily criticised for not declaring an emergency earlier. In the event that the pilot had declared an emergency, the possibility for a safe and controlled landing would have been more available.
- Electrical Fault
The possibility of an electrical problem is a further potential cause of the accident. This will involve an extensive investigation into the aircraft’s maintenance and repair history, as well as analysis of the wreckage.
In the event that the aircraft crash was caused as a result of fuel exhaustion, the airline is likely to face serious repercussions including criminal charges. This is because ensuring that an aircraft has sufficient fuel for the planned flight is a basic part of flight procedures and is heavily regulated. LaMia’s operating licence has already been suspended by Bolivian aviation authorities, and several airline executives have been questioned by prosecutors in this regard.
Whatever the final determination of the cause of the crash may be, compensation claims from the surviving victims and families of the deceased are likely to be made. This particular flight was flying from Brazil to Colombia who are both signatories to the Montreal Convention 1999. Claims to compensation arising from this tragic aircraft accident would therefore be governed by this international convention.
Under the Montreal Convention 1999, passengers and their surviving families are entitled to compensation for bodily injury up to a certain limit without having to establish that the airline was at fault. If a claim is worth above the ‘no fault’ limit, the onus is on the airline to prove that its employees or agents did not act negligently or wrongfully. Given the reports of the LaMia 2933 aircraft crash so far, it is unlikely that the airline would be able to disprove that it or its employees were at fault. This would give rise to compensation claims without a legislative monetary cap.
No amount of money can compensate the loss of a loved one, and our thoughts are with the families and survivors of this tragedy. However we hope that they seek expert legal advice to protect their rights, and at least take away the financial stress that this terrible aircraft accident will no doubt have had on them.
Stacks Goudkamp’s Travel Law department has broad experience advising Australian clients on their legal rights arising from accidents that have occurred overseas, including bringing compensation claims for aircraft accidents under the Montreal Convention. If you have been injured overseas and don’t know where to turn, please contact our experienced and expert travel team on 1800 25 1800 for a no obligation discussion about your circumstances, or make an online enquiry.
Written by Megan Sault.
Megan Sault is a Junior Paralegal in Victoria Roy’s Travel Law Practice Group at Stacks Goudkamp. The Travel Law Practice Group specialises in bringing compensation claims, including claims for injured air passengers under the Montreal Convention and domestic legislation.