Throughout 2001 there were deepening signs of financial crisis at what was then Swissair and its parent SAirGroup. It looked as if they would be restructured with heavyweight funding from the usual suspects in the international banking community; the idea that the situation was already beyond saving seemed inconceivable.
Then on 2 October something happened that I remember almost as vividly as the first whispers of what would become known as “911″. I was writing for our realtime news service Air Transport Intelligence and trying to leave my desk for a quick lunch. Suddenly our reporter Maria Wagland was saying that two Swissair aircraft had been impounded at Heathrow. We were still trying to check that out when our Turkish correspondent Tolga Ozbek filed a story saying a Turkish fuel company was refusing to refuel Swissair aircraft. The game was well and truly up, and the ghastly, prolonged death of Swissair was inevitable.
Its $13 billion collapse brought down Sabena of Belgium and other affiliates in France as well, and put 5,000+ staff out of work.
Connoisseurs of the macabre can now learn new details of the story as the trial of 19 executives, facing 100 pages on charges of mismanagement of one sort or another, winds its way through the court at Bülach near Zurich. One by one all the old names are popping up again – CEO Philippe Bruggisser; the man unsuccessfully parachuted in to save the day Mario Corti; and board member Thomas Schmidheiny. Those three have all given evidence, although it’s reported that all or most other defendants are declining to do so for fear of exposing themselves to civil lawsuits threatened or underway by those who suffered losses.
The Swiss media is following events particularly closely. Here are some links detailing what’s come out so far. The trial is due to end on or around 9 March.
Also on trial is former LOT Polish Airlines CEO Jan Litwinski: http://www.genevalunch.com/node/2855