Mourning relatives plan class action against CAL

The China Post staff

Relatives of victims were yesterday planning a class action against China Airlines (CAL) over last week’s fatal air disaster.

Anger against the airline flared as services were held in both Taipei and Makung, a city on offshore Penghu, where one man accosted President Chen Shui-bian as he prepared to board a plane back to Taipei.

The man, surnamed Lee, a relative of a deceased passenger approached the president demanding “punitive compensation” from CAL which has had four fatal crashes in the past eight years.

The president had earlier paid his respects in commemorative rituals held at three separate mourning auditoriums for relatives following the Taoist, Buddhist, and Christian religions. Around 400 relatives bowed before strips of symbolic yellow paper that covered the walls of a mourning hall at a funeral parlor in Taipei. The strips bore the names of the 225 passengers and crew killed in the crash.

According to traditional Taoist practice, families of the deceased hold memorial services for the victims every seven days for seven consecutive weeks to help bring peace to their restless souls.

CAL executives and pilots joined relatives in the mourning rituals. Family from outside Taiwan also took part in the mourning sessions. Meanwhile, Chen received a briefing on the rescue and salvage operations in the company of Presidential Secretary General Chen Shih-meng, Interior Minister Yu Cheng-tao, and Transportation and Communications Lin Ling-san. He praised the tireless efforts of police, military troops, and people in the civilian sector. But he instructed that the rescue mission should continue. Lee, the man who approached the president said they are not seeking huge monetary compensation but are pursuing an effective way to overhaul the largest air carrier in Taiwan in an effort to protect future passengers.

The proposed class action will see relatives of other victims join hands with people whose family and friends were killed in CAL’s Nagoya crash in Japan and the company’s crash in Taoyuan County. This will be the first judicial attempt in Taiwan to seek punitive damages, a move that could bankrupt CAL. The ROC Consumers Foundation has offered assistance in settlement negotiations with CAL. Other families of victims are soliciting help from lawyers, accountants and social movement organizations. Only 97 bodies have been recovered from the Taiwan Strait after a week of searching and 93 were identified by family members with the aid of DNA test. The ill-fated Boeing 747-200 jet disintegrated at an altitude of over 30,000 feet for unknown reasons about 20 minutes into its flight to Hong Kong from Chiang Kai-shek International Airport on May 24. The crash killed 209 people from Taiwan, nine from mainland China, one Swiss, one Singaporean, and five from Hong Kong.