Hummingbird Airlines, Helicopter MI-8P, Maldives Island, 1999
On Saturday 26th January 1999, at about 21:30 local time, soviet manufactured Mil Helicopter MI-8P, registered under Bulgarian register LZ-CAK with 17 passengers and 3 crew aboard, two minutes after take-off from Rangali Ari Atoll bound for Male International airport, crashed in the sea and immediately sunk in the shallow water following an engine failure during take-off. Despite the fact that it was dark, most passengers and the 3 crew managed to escape but four tourists drowned trapped in the sunk helicopter fuselage.
Our firm was retained by the parents and sister of one of the deceased passengers, a 29 year old Greek tourist who was on holidays in the Maldives. Investigation revealed that immediately after take-off, and while the helicopter was still at the initial stage of climb, the left engine went on fire. The fire was due to loss of engine oil because a faulty engine oil drain valve let most of the engine oil to leak out of the engine during take-off. Moreover although the helicopter was equipped with six emergency flotation devices which should activate automatically when in contact with water and keep the helicopter afloat for a period of time adequate for all passengers to safely evacuate the aircraft, half of the floating compartment was torn during impact with the water and the remaining of the emergency floating devices were not activated. It became know that the deceased relative of our clients died heroically, while trying to save the lives of other trapped passengers.
In addition to complex jurisdiction issues we had to overcome the question of applicable law. Defendants insisted that according to the law of Sharia applicable in the Maldives compensation should be limited to USD 8,700 and refused to accept liability for anything above this sum. Indeed it was on this basis that defendants compensated the families of the rest 3 victims, two Italian and one Japanese tourist. On behalf of our clients, not only did we refuse settlement on such terms but we also refused to discuss with defendants. After extensive legal and factual research, we filed lawsuit in Greece in early 2000 against Hummingbird airlines, their insurers and other responsible parties. Eventually shortly before trial, the case was settled to the satisfaction of our clients for a confidential sum.