AEROSVIT AIRLINES AEW 241 – December 1997
On December 17, 1997 Ukrainian passenger aircraft Yak-42 AEROSVIT AIRLINES flight AEW 241 from Kiev, Ukraine to Thessaloniki, Greece via Odessa, after entering Athens FIR became stranded, lost its orientation and crashed in high mountain terrain in Northern Greece killing all 76 aboard. While initial reports indicated pilot-error during APPROACH FOR LANDING phase, we maintained and finally succeeded to prove in Court that the Thessaloniki Approach controllers issued inappropriate and misleading and inconclusive authorizations to the pilots which caused the aircraft to become stranded and eventually crash 28 miles southwest of Thessaloniki airport. Within the first months after the accident in early 1998 and while the accident was officially under investigation, our firm was retained by the families of 21 deceased passengers and crewmembers to investigate the accident and help find responsible persons.
Our strategy was to initiate separate legal action against both AEROSVIT AIRLINES and the Greek State in order to seek compensation and moral damages against all responsible parties.
The case against AEROSVIT AIRLINES
At the time of the accident Warsaw Convention governed the liability of the carrier because Montreal Convention of 1999 had not been yet implemented. Moreover AEROSVIT argued that compensation should be limited to $ 20,000 per passenger according to the Warsaw Convention version applicable in Ukraine. Following legal action which we started in Thessaloniki including the arrest of another AEROSVIT aircraft in the airport of Thessaloniki, we defeated AEROSVIT argument and persuaded defendants to settle our client’s cases on much better terms. As a result our clients at an early stage of the proceedings received compensations which were many times higher than any limit imposed by Warsaw Convention. At the same time special provision was made in those settlements which enabled our clients to file for additional compensation against other liable parties including the Greek State.
The case against the Greek State
Investigation revealed that the crew of AEW 241 approached for landing under the false belief that Thessaloniki International Airport had a TAR (Terminal Approach Radar) which could provide radar vectoring service to approaching aircrafts. Had this been true, the Approach Controllers would have been able to monitor the approaching aircraft’s path in the sky and issue directions as to heading which would safely bring the aircraft at the threshold of the landing runway. Unfortunately this was not rue and Thessaloniki airport had no radar vectoring facility. For more than 30 minutes the aircraft executed unsuccessful attempts to establish the Glidepath and make an ILS landing. Throughout this period it became apparent to the Approach Controllers that the aircraft not only has serious difficulties to make ILS landing but that it had strayed from its intended course and actually have become lost. Among other violations relating with ATC proper behavior, we claimed that the Approach Controller violated their obligation to inform the fatal aircraft that they have become strayed as provided under Chapter 2 § 2.23 of Annex 11 to the Chicago Convention.
The lawsuits we started against the Greek State on behalf of the victims developed into a fierce and complex legal battle with two separate legs. First we had to fight the criminal case against the two Approach Controllers who were charged with manslaughter. At the same time we filed lawsuits against the Greek State for compensation which were entered before the administrative Courts. In three highly emotional many month long criminal trials, the first one before the First Instance Court in Thessaloniki the second before the Court of Appeals in Thessaloniki and the third before the Supreme Court of Greece in Athens, we managed to defeat all defenses raised by the accused Approach Controllers and secured a conviction of both Approach Controller for manslaughter as directed by decision No. 1238/2005 of the Supreme Court of Greece (criminal division).
Following this development we fought all families lawsuits all the way up to the Supreme Administrative Court of Greece and finally our clients with decisions No. 1406/2009, 1407/2009, 1408/2009, 1410/2009, 1412/2009, 1414/2009, 1487/2009, 1489/2009, 3314/2012, 3315/2012, 3316/2012 and 3317/2012 the Supreme Administrative Court of Athens were rewarded and obtained significant additional compensation from the Greek State, although Greek State’s liability was held to be only 30% and the rest 70% was attributed to the deceased pilots. The families of all three pilots along with the rest crewmembers and passengers represented by our firm collected compensation against the Greek State.