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Tue, Nov 07, 2000 - Page 2 News List

Power struggle emerges over crash

INVESTIGATION The Aviation Safety Council says that Taoyuan prosecutors want to hijack the probe into the crash of flight SQ006, going against international norms

By Chuang Chi-ting  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Aviation Safety Council (飛安會, ASC), which is in charge of the investigation into the causes of the crash of Singapore Airlines flight SQ006 last Tuesday night, yesterday said that the local prosecutors' office had interfered in and dragged out the investigation because of their unfamiliarity with international practice.

The ASC had confirmed that the accident killed 82 of the 179 people on board the flight to Los Angeles, caused by the pilot's attempting to take off on a runway closed for repair at Chiang Kai-shek International Airport. The jetliner hit construction machinery on the runway, which caused the fatal explosion of the plane.

The ASC says that it has observed local prosecutors from the Taoyuan district prosecutors' office "contravening international practice" by "interfering" in the investigation.

The Taoyuan district prosecutors' office has claimed that it might file a lawsuit against the three pilots of the deadly flight, saying that the pilot's error in the accident could amount to homicide on the basis of professional negligence.

Yong Kay (戎凱), managing director of the ASC, said that applying the criminal law to pilots responsible for an accident could bring egregious consequences for Taiwan in aviation matters, while prosecuting pilots over an air crash "is extremely rare worldwide" and "such cases can only be found in undeveloped countries."

The prosecutors' office, however, insists that whenever any incident involves death, it should be in full charge of the investigation.

Yong argued that international practice usually involves penalizing the airline involved in an accident, designating the case a "civil suit" instead of seeking to establish the criminal liability of those responsible for accidents. "International practice suggests the most rigorous punishment for a pilot for a fatal incident is revoking his license forever," Yong said.

"It is very difficult to apportion blame specifically to anybody in an air crash. The accident always occurs after a chain of many crucial causes," Yong said.

"In addition, a criminal penalty, in a sense, is designed to deter others from committing the crime," Yong said, "but no pilot would cause an accident on purpose, so why should there be any deterrence?" Yong said.

An International Civil Aviation Organization treaty has stated that the purpose of investigation of any air accident is to prevent another similar incident rather than to punish those responsible.

"Such an action would have lasting consequences, such as the condemnation and boycott of Taiwan by the international community, and the heightening of tension surrounding our negotiation of aviation rights with foreign countries," Yong said. "Acting against international practice will have a definite impact on Taiwan's international reputation."

The ASC has attributed the claim of the prosecutors involved to their lack of understanding of international convention. "We are definitely having to spend time -- delaying the investigation -- to educate the prosecutors involved," Yong said.

"In fact, all such investigations in other countries are fully conducted by a professional investigation team instead of prosecutors to meet the proficiency requirements," Yong said. "Only when the team finds the accident to be a deliberate crime, would the case be transferred to investigative departments in the country concerned. But I'll be greatly surprised if our prosecutors will withdraw," he said.

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