The former president of a defunct Thai airline was convicted in absentia of manslaughter and sentenced to four years in prison in Paris yesterday for a 2007 crash in Phuket that killed 90 people.
Udom Tantiprasongchai, the former head of One-Two-Go, was not present during the two-day trial in the Paris Criminal Court, during which public prosecutor Lois Raschel asked the court to send a “strong message.”
“This is an important trial for the victims, but it is also an important day for the aeronautical world … There must be no impunity, beyond the borders, the assembly of companies, the passing years,” he said.
Udom was also fined EUR75,000 (THB2.6 million or US$85,000).
Nine French died on Sept. 16, 2007, when their Boeing MD-82 crashed in flames while trying to land in driving rain on the island. Also killed were 33 Thai nationals and 57 foreigners, mainly tourists from Britain, Israel and France.
Despite an international warrant for Udom’s arrest, he was never detained and has never responded to a judicial summons.
An investigation by the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand concluded the plane crashed as a result of human error as the pilot and his co-pilot sought to land in bad weather.
But it also found the pilots had exceeded their weekly number of flight hours and were suffering from accumulated stress due to tiredness and lack of rest, which meant that their responses were impaired in a critical situation.
As the investigation got under way, the airline submitted documents falsifying the number of hours the pilots had flown, to make it look as if they were within the correct limits, a source close to the case said.
Twelve years on, the French inquiry revealed numerous failings in the recruitment, training and working habits of the pilots as well as in the maintenance of the fleet.
The extended flying hours were commonplace, with pilots earning cash bonuses, a former pilot told investigators, alluding to a “criminal business culture” that included “serious breaches of the most basic security norms.”
One-Two-GO and its parent company Orient Thai have both ceased to operate.
Story: Agence France Presse, Coconuts Bangkok