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the trial of the Yemenia company and the “junk planes”

The crash of an A310 off the Comoros in 2009 killed 152 people, including 66 French people, leaving only one 12-year-old survivor. The Yemeni national company which operated the plane is judged in Paris from this Monday and until June 2, thirteen years after the facts.

Some 560 people are civil parties, many of them from the Marseille region, where many victims resided.

This Monday, nearly a hundred relatives of the victims took their places in the main courtroom. For those unable to enter, two broadcast rooms have been opened within the courthouse and part of the trial is broadcast in Marseille. But the families have had to face an empty bench of defendants: no representative of the company, which disputes any “failure”, has moved because of the war raging in Yemen.

“Thirteen years is a long time: it’s psychologically and morally exhausting, and even physically,” said Said Assoumani, president of the victims’ association. “But after thirteen years of waiting and impatience, the criminal trial is finally here. »

The Yemenia 626 crash: the facts

On the evening of June 29, 2009, Yemenia flight 626 was about to land in Moroni, the capital of the Comoros, with 11 crew members and 142 passengers on board, including 66 French. Leaving from Paris or Marseille, they changed planes in Sanaa, Yemen.

But a few kilometers from the coast, at 10:53 p.m. local time, it hit the Indian Ocean, engines at full power, before sinking into the water. The accident will take the life of all the occupants of the aircraft, with the exception of a miraculous.

The complicated investigation between France and the Comoros

The black boxes had been fished out a few weeks after this crash, which remains the most serious in the history of the Comoros, an archipelago located between Mozambique and Madagascar, but the investigation remained bogged down for a long time.

The French authorities for a time criticized their Comorian counterparts for their non-cooperation, while the families of the victims accused Yemen of exerting pressure to prevent the questioning of its national company.

If the dilapidated state of the Yemenia aircraft had been denounced for a long time by passengers, the investigations concluded that the condition of the aircraft, an Airbus which left the factory in 1990, was not in question – nor the weather, lightning or a missile.

According to the expert reports, based in particular on the flight recorders, the accident was due to “inappropriate actions by the crew during the approach to Moroni airport, leading to the loss of control of the aircraft “.

What is reproached to the Yemenia company?

“Beyond these dramatic errors attributable to the pilots”, the investigating magistrates considered that Yemenia had “failed in many respects”. He is accused of having maintained night flights for Moroni, despite the long-standing breakdowns of the airport beacon lights, as well as “shortcomings” in the training of pilots, described as “lacunary”.

The thorny issue of “junk planes”

For Saïd Assoumani, president of the association of victims of Yemenia 626, this trial will first of all be that of the “junk planes”, “the trial of shortcomings, of irresponsibility, which means that, with the race for profits, we happens to dramas. »

Airplanes with little or no maintenance, which do not meet international safety standards, are called “junk planes”. In short, devices that should not be allowed to fly, but which are still used by carriers, more concerned with profits.

In 2006, faced with unscrupulous companies and accidents that could have been avoided if the planes had been maintained, the European Union opened a blacklist of airlines, denying them access to European airspace. “The practice consisted of sending good planes to important markets and sending real flying coffins to less profitable destinations”, explained then the Commissioner for Transport, Jacques Barrot.

Since then, this list has been updated regularly. The last date is April 22, 2022. Today, 117 companies in 15 countries are listed.

However, this blacklist only concerns Europe (flights to, within and from the EU), even if the United States has its own list, which is very similar.

“These companies manage to circumvent the system with planes that are up to standard in Europe, especially in France −Roissy and Marseille−, but these are not direct flights, develops Saïd Assoumani. We change planes on the way. That was in Sanaa, Yemen, and that’s where the problem begins. We get on trash planes that would never pass the controls in Europe. »

In addition to the planes in poor condition, the flight attendants also bear the brunt of these shortcomings. Unscrupulous companies focus on revenue rather than security. So hire people with little or no experience.

In the case of Yemenia, “to make the flights profitable, they used ‘fake pilots’, who did not have the necessary training, who did not have the necessary experience”, says Saïd Assoumani. During the landing in Moroni of flight 626, “it was necessary to maneuver visually, that is to say without electronic or radar assistance, so there it is the skill of the pilot who is in the front line”.

The sole survivor will testify on May 23

Bahia Bakari survived by clinging to debris at sea for eleven hours, before being rescued by a fishing boat the day after the crash.

The only survivor, she refused to speak to the press on Monday before the hearing. However, she is due to testify on May 23. His mother is one of the victims.

Over the course of reports and in a book, Bahia Bakari described having felt, as he approached the airport, “turbulence”, having been “electrified” and then having had a “black hole” before finding himself in the water, where she heard “women screaming”.

The criminal trial takes place from May 9 to June 2. The Yemenia company incurs a fine of 225,000 euros.

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