Legal action against SilkAir over the 1997 Boeing 737-300 crash has begun with plaintiffs' witnesses alleging it was deliberately caused by a member of the cockpit crew.

The lawsuit in Singapore has been brought against the Singapore Airlines subsidiary by families of six victims of the crash, which killed 104 people (Flight International 26 June-2 July). The trial opened on 2 July with senior counsel Michael Khoo arguing that SilkAir is liable under the Warsaw Convention or the Hague Convention as the crash was a result of "wilful misconduct" by a member of the flight crew, or negligence by the airline itself.

On 3 July the court heard from SilkAir first officer Lawrence Dittmer, who flew several times with Tsu Way Ming, the captain of the crashed 737-300. Many including the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) believe Tsu, who had financial troubles and had been disciplined by the airline for procedural breaches, deliberately crashed the aircraft.

Dittmer recounted a March 1997 incident in which Tsu botched an approach to Manado airport in Indonesia and carried out a violent manoeuvre to slow the aircraft.

Three months later, while a SilkAir inquiry into the incident was continuing, Tsu and Dittmer were again scheduled to fly together and discussed it in the cockpit before departure. Tsu then disconnected the cockpit voice recorder to save its contents but Dittmer refused to fly unless it was re-started. Tsu was demoted from instructor pilot.

The court also heard on 4 July from Australian aviation expert Capt John Laming, who said the aircraft's flight profile during its steep dive was consistent with sustained nose-down control input. He said it appeared there was no attempt to recover the aircraft.

SilkAir will argue there was no evidence that the crew had either suicidal tendencies or a motive to cause the crash.

Source: Flight International