Families of Samal AirPhil crash victims to get $1.2M each

Cotabato Vice Gov. Emmanuel Piñol, whose relatives were among 131 passengers and crew of the plane, announced that the aviation company that leased the Boeing plane to Air Philippines have agreed to a settlement of at least US$157 million (P6.6 Billion) after finding it would lose in finality the suit filed by the group in behalf of the victims. He estimates that each family would get around $1.2 million even though he admitted it will be for the courts to decide on the actual amount.

The announcement came more than seven years after the plane crashed into a coconut plantation in the Island Garden City of Samal at around 7:45 a.m. on April 19, 2000.

The families sued aviation firm AAR and Fleet, which leased planes to the fleet of Air Philippines, including the Boeing 737 aircraft used in Flight 541.

Piñol, in a press conference at the Pizza Hut Restaurant in SM City Davao, said the plane was substandard even if it was just renovated.

The Illinois State Supreme Court was towards the completion of the case when the firms' insurance firm, Lloyds of London, decided on an amicable settlement, Piñol said.

He cited that during the hearings of the case at the courts in the State of Illinois, it was found out that the Air Philippines pilots who manned the aircraft did not undergo a training course required by Boeing.

Piñol cited that the discovery of a conspiracy among the firm's smaller insurers was among the turning point in the settlement plan.

He said workers reportedly paid by insurance firms covered the crash site with concrete to conceal evidences.

Piñol said he has to rub elbows with then President Joseph Estrada just to gain access to the plane's maintenance manual as the Air Transportation Office reportedly kept the manual from the public.

He said investigations also revealed the ATO control tower did not communicate with Flight 541 after the touchdown at the Davao International Airport was aborted.

All of the flight's passengers and crew, including the wife and two children of Piñol's brother, perished in the crash.

Piñol noted that while the Air Philippines crash was among the worst in the Philippines, if the indemnification pushes through, it will also be the biggest settlement in the country's aviation history.

"It should make air travel in the Philippines much safer," he said.

He said indemnification should be processed before the year ends after the settlement agreement would be finalized at an identified Chicago court.

Piñol said he was authorized by the American law firm to speak to media on the updates.

He said the one-to-one meetings were meant to get the families' consent to the settlement.

Only 56 families choose Nolan Law Group to represent them in the law suit, Piñol said.

But he assured that the settlement applies to all families of the 131 victims "regardless if they have received anything in the past". He said the American firm was the lead law group, but those who choose to be represented by other firms would benefit in the decision.

Nolan Law Group, who specializes in aviation law suits, would get 33 percent of what each family would receive, Piñol said.

He said it is a justifiable percentage as the firm took a risk in defending the victims and did not bill the families while the case was in progress.

Piñol noted, however, that a lower settlement was offered to the families a few years back. The victims backed off when they found out the proposed indemnification was much lower compared to those offered to families of the victims, mostly Caucasians, of another plane crush.

"Filipino lives are just as valuable as those Caucasians," he stressed.

Piñol also announced the families of the victims are compiling stories to publish a book about their ordeal to be launched in time for the eighth anniversary of the crash next year.

"It would be about the crash, the lives lost, lessons learned, struggles against the judicial and air transportation system and struggle against conspiracy," he said.