China Airlines officials again avoid charges over 1994 crash

Kyodo

The Nagoya District Public Prosecutor’s Office said Monday it has again opted not to indict four senior China Airlines officials over the April 1994 crash of an Airbus A300-600R at Nagoya airport that killed 264 passengers and crew members.

Prosecutors will not charge with professional negligence Chang Kuang-feng, 69, then the airline’s vice president tasked with flight management; Hsu Chia-yin, 62, head of CAL’s operations department; Lin Tzu-wen, 57, deputy head of the department; and Lin Yu, 57, chief pilot at the time.

The decision follows a reinvestigation prompted by the 11-member No. 2 Nagoya Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution in January 2000. The panel said an earlier decision not to indict the four was inappropriate.

As part of the renewed probe, prosecutors examined crew training procedures and evaluation methods used by Japan Air System Co., which introduced the same type of aircraft around the time of the accident.

Prosecutors consequently found it “difficult to call into question the criminal responsibility of the four individuals because aptitude levels achieved through training at the carrier were similar to those at other airlines.”

The A300-600R operating manual says the aircraft could suddenly pitch up and reduce speed if the flight control lever is pushed forward during landing if the plane is on autopilot.

But it is believed that Capt. Wang Lo-chi, 42, and his copilot, Chuang Mong Rong, 26, mistakenly flipped the lever to commence another approach for Flight 140 and kept pressing the control lever without switching from automatic to manual control. The approaching plane pulled up, flew erratically, stalled and crashed near the runway.

The Nagoya District Public Prosecutor’s Office determined in March 1999 that this mistake caused the accident and accused the two pilots of serious negligence. Prosecutors did not indict because the pair died in the crash. Neither were the other four indicted.

But in May that year, relatives of crash victims called for an inquest into the decision. A commission investigating the appeal determined in January 2000 that the decision not to indict was inappropriate because it was hard to prove the four officials in question provided sufficient training for the pilots.

While some relatives have agreed on damages with CAL, several groups still have cases before the Nagoya District Court.

Officials at the airline’s Nagoya Branch issued a statement Monday saying it would accept any conclusion reached by authorities but could not comment on the decision specifically as it had not received formal word.

“We will deal with the next of kin with sincerity and continue efforts to secure flight safety,” the carrier said.

Isomi Suzuki, a lawyer heading a secretariat formed by the attorneys negotiating for compensation, noted that prosecutors have not changed their position that the two pilots were totally negligent.

“Based on this, China Air has civil responsibility and we hope it compensates the plaintiffs as swiftly as possible,” he said.

Noboru Yamamoto, leader of a group of next of kin, said he is “extremely dissatisfied” with the decision again not to indict the four. “I wanted them to look into the airline from many angles and indict them. If (CAL’s) training level was the same as other airlines’, I cannot help but feel that all airlines conduct lax training,” he said.