The first lawsuits in a fiery Cuban air crash that killed 112 people have been filed in circuit court in Chicago on behalf of the families of three passengers who lost their lives.
Juana Cutiño Alfaro, whose two adult children died in the May 18 crash, and Elba Buitrago Cabrera, whose 50-year-old brother died, claim that Global Air (Aerolineas Damojh), a Mexican company that leased a 39-year-old Boeing 737-200 to Cuba’s national airline, was negligent in training its pilots, causing the wrongful deaths of their relatives.
The Mexican crew all perished in the crash of flight 972 and only one passenger, 19-year-old Mailén Díaz Almaguer, survived.
The lawsuits allege that pilots Jorge Luis Nuñez Santos and Miguel Arreola Ramírez lost control of the plane, which was en route from Havana to Holguín, and “the aircraft stalled, flipped upside down, and crashed coming to rest near train tracks and a farm in the vicinity” of Havana’s José Martí International Airport.
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The plaintiffs are seeking “all damages available under the law” and court costs. Cutiño is the administrator of the estates of her children Carlos Miguel de la Cruz Cutiño and Grettel Isel de la Cruz Cutiño. Buitrago is administrator for the estate of her brother Jorge Luis Buitrago Cabrera.
Cutiño is a Cuban citizen while Buitrago lives in the United States. Her brother also was a U.S. resident.
In a statement issued in July, Global Air said that information obtained from the black boxes recovered from the flight showed that the crew took off from José Martí International at too steep an angle of ascent, causing aerodynamic problems that led to the crash.
However, the Cuban commission investigating the accident with the help of Mexican and U.S. aviation authorities, the National Transportation Safety Board, Boeing, and Pratt & Whitney, which manufactured the plane’s engine, still hasn’t finished its work or issued any official findings on the crash.
“A process of this magnitude requires an analysis of multiple factors and still hasn’t been concluded,” the commission said in July after Global blamed the pilots for the crash. Any declaration about the possible causes for the crash “is premature,” the commission said.
“As the operator of the accident aircraft, Global Air was legally responsible for assuring that its pilots were properly trained on the accident aircraft for the crew’s own safety and for the safety of Global Air’s passengers,” the lawsuits state. Instead, the suits allege that Global and its agents in the United States trained the pilots “in a negligent and reckless manner.”
The plane had been in Cuba for less than a month when Cubana de Aviación, Cuba’s national airline, put it into service on the Havana-Holguín route. Global was in charge of the plane’s maintenance as well as for providing the crew.
There had been speculation that poor maintenance may have caused the crash, but at the same time Global blamed the pilots, it defended its maintenance record and said two disgruntled former employees had been spreading defamatory rumors.
The lawsuits note that Global has since removed its statement about the pilots from its website and Facebook and Twitter accounts.
But Austin Bartlett, the lawyer for Cutiño and Buitrago, said: “Global Air has already publicly admitted that its pilots were a cause of the crash.”
The suits, which were filed in Cook County Circuit Court in Chicago in late August, also name Boeing, the manufacturer of the aircraft, and AAR Corp., which is believed to have owned the aircraft before it was sold to the Mexican company, as respondents-in-discovery.
Even though the crash took place in Cuba and involved a Mexican company and a Cuban airline, the lawsuits were filed in Chicago because Boeing’s world headquarters is located there and AAR is based in Wood Dale, IL.
The two companies were named as respondents-in-discovery because they are “believed to have information essential to the determination of who should properly be named as additional defendants in the lawsuit,” said Bartlett. Sometimes they end up becoming defendants themselves; sometimes they don’t, he said.
Follow Mimi Whitefield on Twitter: @HeraldMimi