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  Swissair Offers to Settle in Crash

By Hope Yen
Associated Press Writer
Friday, August 6, 1999; 8:27 a.m. EDT

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Survivors of 229 people killed in last year's Swissair Flight 111 disaster have been offered financial compensation from the airline, provided they not pursue punitive damages.

The move, revealed in a pretrial conference Thursday, does not represent an admission of guilt, Swissair said.

``This is extraordinary,'' said Lee Kreindler, the lead counsel for the plaintiffs, after the offer was made.

It was not clear, however, whether the deal would be accepted. Kreindler predicted many of the cases will be settled in the coming month, although some of the 30 plaintiffs' attorneys said they weren't so sure.

Flight 111, en route from New York to Geneva, crashed in September off the coast of Nova Scotia after the pilots reported smoke in the cockpit. All 229 people on board were killed.

Swissair attorney Desmond Barry said the airline and two of the three other co-defendants -- Boeing, which owns the company that built the MD-11 jetliner, and Delta Airlines, which had a ticket-sharing deal with Swissair -- would not contest whether they were to blame for the accident.

``We agree to share liability for the accident and pay full compensatory damages for each passenger and crew member,'' Barry told a federal judge.

The offer applies to the 167 claims already filed as well as any claims that may be submitted in the future, Swissair said.

Barry also requested that about 120 of the cases be dismissed from U.S. court for litigation in France or Switzerland because many of the passengers on the plane were from other countries.

At least one lawyer for the plaintiffs did not appear impressed with Swissair's overture.

``Essentially what the defense contends is that they're willing to pay economic damages only and avoid pain and suffering damages for the U.S. plaintiffs and essentially ignore the foreign plaintiffs,'' said Arthur Wolk of Philadelphia.

Swissair is facing claims totaling $16 billion from families of U.S. victims suing on grounds of gross negligence, although attorneys expected a jury award would be far short of that figure. The company said it has reached settlements with relatives of five victims in France.

Investigators still have not identified the cause of the fire that sent the smoke into the cockpit. But Canadian investigators found heat-damaged wiring aboard the crashed MD-11, prompting U.S. air safety officials in January to recommend that airlines inspect all MD-11 jetliners for electrical wiring problems.

Swissair said Tuesday that a flight attendant on the MD-11 had reported strange smells in the cabin less than a month before the fatal crash. No problems were found.

The fourth defendant, Inflight Technologies, which provided the plane's electronic entertainment system, was not involved in Thursday's offer. The company is defending its case in California courts, but an attorney said its client would consider joining the deal.

© 1999 The Associated Press

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