CHICAGO (AP) — Passengers on a plane that crash-landed in Poland last year when its landing gear failed to deploy have sued Boeing and the firm that inspected the airliner before it departed New Jersey, with one attorney saying his clients suffered severe emotional trauma from thinking they were about to die.
A lawsuit claiming both physical and psychological damage was filed this week in Cook County Circuit Court in Chicago, where Boeing is headquartered, contends design flaws in the 767-300 led to fluid leaking from the hydraulic system. It said workers of New York-based Mach II Maintenance should have detected it.
Around 230 people were aboard the November 2011 Lot Airlines flight when it hit the runway, sparks flying as its belly scraped the pavement at Warsaw's Chopin Airport. The pilot, Capt. Tadeusz Wrona, was later hailed as a national hero in Poland after their appeared to be no serious injuries.
But the psychological trauma was intense, as the pilot told passengers over the intercom that the crew had no choice but to land without wheels, the Chicago-area attorney representing the plaintiffs told The Associated Press on Friday.
"You've got the pilot telling them that things aren't looking good, you had people texting their loved ones saying, 'I don't know if I'll ever see you again, goodbye,' " said Floyd Wisner. "There's the terror that you are about to die."
Some of the around 80 passengers listed as plaintiffs still are plagued by nightmares, he said, and some say they can never set foot on a plane again, Wisner said, calling it "classic post-traumatic stress disorder."
People who are skeptical of such claims don't understand what his clients went through, he added.
"This is a near-death experience," he said. "That you didn't die is great. But you suffered damage from thinking you would die."
Boeing spokesman Miles Kotay declined comment, saying the company doesn't comment on ongoing litigation. A message left at the headquarters Mach II Maintenance Friday wasn't returned.
The nine-page lawsuit, which does not specify a damages figure, a comes in the wake of a preliminary report in October from Poland's State Commission for Investigation of Air Accidents that pointed to technical problems with the plane and inadequate guidance in its cockpit handbook.
The report said the main landing-gear discharge system failed due to a broken hydraulic hose, and the backup system also failed, probably because its circuit breaker was accidentally in the off position. It also said the cockpit checklist did not include guidance on what to do with a malfunction of the alternative landing gear system or if the landing gear could not be discharged.
After the report was released, Boeing said in a statement it would not comment until the final report. It added, "Boeing is committed to the safety of our airplanes and the people who fly on them." The commission didn't say when it would issue its final report.
Such a total undercarriage failure was unprecedented for a Boeing 767 and unusual overall, according to aviation data and experts.