On the night of June 29 to 30, 2009, as it was about to land at Moroni airport, the capital of the Comoros, Yemenia flight 626 crashed into the Indian Ocean, taking 141 passengers, including 65 French, and 11 crew members.
Only a 12-year-old child, Frenchwoman Bahia Bakari, survived by clinging to debris from the plane all night before being rescued by a boat the next day.
The investigations carried out on the black boxes, found at the end of August 2009 at the bottom of the ocean, made it possible to conclude that the accident was due to a series of pilot errors.
If Yemenia has “respected the regulations”, it has on the other hand committed “two imprudences in certain connection with the accident”, declared the president Sylvie Daunis while pronouncing the decision.
The court pointed out that the company had maintained night flights during the summer period, when the weather was likely to impose a delicate landing maneuver and this, in a context where certain airport lights were not working.
The court also noted “the assignment of the co-pilot on this flight, despite his professional weaknesses” and while his role was particularly important at the time of the night approach to Moroni.
“Aviation safety presupposes reasonably anticipating a real, critical or even dangerous situation for the aircraft and its occupants and not hoping that, by chance, there will be no accident and notifying later if there is ‘produces one,’ scolded the president, pointing to the company’s “failing culture of safety and responsibility”.
“Yemenia will appeal insofar as it totally denies any responsibility”, reacted Mr. Léon-Lef Forster, citing “all the dysfunctions external to Yemenia, namely the problems of the control tower, the absence of light on the airport, the lack of weather transmission”.
As during the trial, which took place from May 9 to June 2, no company official was present, because of the war which is ravaging Yemen according to the defense.
Dozens of relatives of the victims came to listen with emotion to the decision, rendered more than thirteen years after the events.
The only survivor of the tragedy, Bahia Bakari, who lost her mother in the crash, expressed her “relief to hear justice and to say that the company is guilty”.
“For us, today is a great day because it is the culmination of a fight of more than a decade, of 13 years”, reacted Saïd Assoumani, president of the association of families. Victims (AFVCA), from Marseille where many deceased passengers lived. “This fight, we led it for us the living, for our dignity, but also for the dignity of our dead”.
Relatives nevertheless regretted a probable second trial. “But if today they still want to appeal, it’s because they want the pain to remain in our hearts every year. It’s not normal,” said one of them, Souighiri Soulé, present. in court in Paris.
– One million in lawyers’ fees –
The company was also ordered to pay with provisional execution, that is to say immediately, one million euros in lawyers’ fees and 50,000 euros for support costs to the AFVCA.
The National Federation of Victims of Attacks and Collective Accidents was granted a total of 30,000 euros.
Relatives of deceased Comorians had become civil parties to this trial, but the court stressed that it was only competent for victims of French nationality.
“Pain has no nationality”, insisted the president, adding that these people were “unquestionably victims” but not “civil party”.
For other French families, the court recalled that it could only rule on lawyers’ fees, referring this subject to a later hearing.
Since the accident, most of the beneficiaries have initiated compensation proceedings parallel to the criminal proceedings. A third of them have not yet been definitively compensated, according to the AFVCA.