Lawsuit Filed Over Plane Crash That Killed All But One

Rescue and search workers on the site where a Cuban airliner plummeted into a field just after takeoff from the international airport in Havana on May 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrea Rodriguez)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (CN) – Seeking recompense for the sole survivor of a plane crash that killed her husband and 111 others in Cuba, a lawsuit filed in Florida blames the disaster on poor pilot training and a botched takeoff from a Havana airport.

Tampa resident Jean Michel Lopez Salinas was fatally wounded when Cubana de Aviacion Flight 972 slammed into the ground shortly after takeoff from Jose Marti International Airport.  

His newlywed wife, Maylen, was the only survivor of the May 2018 crash. The then-19-year old woman sustained severe burns and disabling injuries. Two other women initially survived the impact but succumbed to their injuries in hospital care.

The plane was being leased by the Cuban national airline from Mexican charter company Aerolineas Damojh, doing business as Global Air. 

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Broward County Circuit Court, Jean Michel’s family alleges that Global Air’s pilots did not maintain the right ascent angle and air speed during takeoff. 

The family claims Global Air neglected to ensure crew had adequate training on takeoff procedures and emergency stall recovery for the 1979 Boeing 737 plane. The complaint also claims that the aircraft was not properly maintained, though no specific allegations are enumerated in that vein.

Global Air has not responded to a request for comment.

Submitted by Richard Giglio of the law firm Maney Gordon in Tampa, the lawsuit lists two counts for wrongful death damages for the estate and Jean Michel’s family, including his widow and son born in 2010. The firm clarified that it is neither representing the widow nor pursuing personal injury damages on her behalf, and that the litigation was filed by the estate’s putative representative.  

Giglio told Courthouse News by phone that the family is still reeling from Jean Michel’s passing.

“They’re doing the best they can to deal with the tragedy,” he said. 

Cuba’s civil aviation authority released a report earlier this month on the crash. Investigators concluded the most likely cause was an error in weight and balancing calculations by the crew. 

Mexico suspended Global Air’s flight clearance in the aftermath of the tragedy, though the company’s flight privileges appear to have been restored roughly three months later.

The lawsuit cites a post-crash statement published in the Miami Herald, in which Global Air reportedly blamed the crash on pilot error. It reportedly said flight data “reveals that the crew took off with the aircraft in a very pronounced angle of ascent, creating a lack of support that led to the fall.”

In a third-party report on the crash, the Flight Safety Foundation, an aviation safety firm, noted that a distorted angle of ascent “would suggest the centre of gravity was aft of the aircraft’s limits.”

Lawsuits in Illinois federal and state court over the crash are pending. 

The Illinois federal litigation names Boeing as a defendant for alleged manufacturing defects in the plane. The complaint includes allegations of pilot error as well, claiming faulty takeoff procedures contributed to the crash. 

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