Family of man who died after SpiceJet turbulence says waiting for aid
On May 1, Akbar Ansari, a resident of Jharkhand’s Giridih district, was among 17 people – 14 passengers and three members of the cabin crew – injured after flight SG945, which took off from Mumbai, encountered severe turbulence during its descent at West Bengal’s Durgapur airport.
Two months after a 48-year-old man died due to injuries sustained during severe turbulence in a SpiceJet flight on May 1, his family has said the airline has refused to provide them with compensation.
Also Read: 5 months on, 48-year-old injured in SpiceJet turbulence accident dies
The low-budget carrier, however, said “compensation is being paid as per norms”.
Akbar Ansari, a resident of Jharkhand’s Giridih district, was among 17 people – 14 passengers and three members of the cabin crew – injured after flight SG945, which took off from Mumbai at 5.13pm on May 1, encountered severe turbulence during its descent at West Bengal’s Durgapur airport at around 7.15pm. The flight carried 195 people.
After nearly five months of treatment at The Mission Hospital in Durgapur, Ansari died of “sepsis in shock” caused by “polytrauma with spinal injury” on September 26. The death certificate also said he “sustained polytrauma while travelling in flight”. The passenger was admitted to the hospital at 3.30am on May 2, and he died on September 26 at 5.06pm.
In cases of injuries or deaths due to accidents on a flight, an airline is required to pay at least ₹25.5 lakh to the affected victims or the next of kin, according to the Carriage by Air Act of 1972.
The deceased’s kin said the airline looked after Ansari’s medical expenses but they haven’t heard from SpiceJet about the compensation since his death.
“Initially, our calls were not being answered but I recently spoke to an airline official who said they cannot compensate us and it all depends on the insurance company,” Ansari’s brother, Maulana Akhtar, said.
“My brother, who was seated in the aisle seat, had worn his seat belt which broke due to the impact of the turbulence. The airline offered to pay us ₹10,000 the day my brother died. We did not accept it and instead, asked for compensation, as he was the only earning member in his family,” he added.
Ansari, a resident of Beko village in Giridih district, worked at a garment factory in Mumbai and was travelling to his hometown with Akhtar along with another family member when the incident occurred on the flight.
He lived in Mumbai for over 20 years with his wife and three children and was the only earning member in the family, Akhtar said. He would earn ₹50,000 and would send half of his salary home every month, he added.
Responding to the family’s allegation, an airline spokesperson said: “The company took care of the passenger’s medical, hospital and other family expenses of over ₹60 lakh. Compensation is being paid as per norms.”
In October, too, the airline said the compensation would be provided to the family as per guidelines.
The Durgapur incident was among the most prominent in a string of flight safety incidents involving SpiceJet aircraft, which finally led to the civil aviation regulator taking action against the budget carrier earlier this year. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) also suspended the pilot’s licence for six months.
The Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) is yet to release a report on the incident.
According to rule 17 of the Carriage by Air Act, “the carrier is liable for damage sustained in the event of the death or wounding of a passenger or any other bodily injury suffered by a passenger, if the accident which caused the damage so sustained took place on board the aircraft or in the course of any of the operations of embarking or disembarking.”
A 2019 amendment to the Act states: “For damages arising under sub-rule (1) of rule 17 not exceeding twenty-five lakh fifty thousand rupees for each passenger, the carrier shall not be able to exclude or limit its liability.’’
Legal experts said airlines are bound to pay victims of such accidents
“In most air accidents, victims are unable to get their compensation because they are too poor to access the judicial system. Be it an accident during international operations (such as the Air India Express accident in Mangaluru in 2010 where victims were mostly labourers) or the numerous helicopter accidents in the North East, most victims did not get compensation because of their inability to access the judicial system,” Yashwanth Shenoy, an advocate dealing with aviation law, said.
“They (victims) end up taking whatever pittance is given to them by insurance companies. An average compensation for air victims in the US and EU is 2.5 million dollars, whereas in India it is $20,000 to $50,000 (around ₹16- ₹40 lakh),” Shenoy said.
Bharat S Kumar, an advocate at Delhi high court and Supreme Court, said the Carriage by Air Act was amended to focus on the woes of domestic air passengers.
“The amended rule in Carriage by Air Act, which now applies even to domestic air travel, places a minimum obligation of payables of up to ₹25.5 lakh, thereby implying that any claim amount lesser than the aforesaid, even in the event of the airline proving no negligence from its end, shall be payable to the passenger if the damage or death so sustained was onboard the aircraft or while embarking or disembarking,” he said.
“For seeking claims from an airline, negligence of an airline, earning capacity of the individual play an important role in seeking compensation. The Triveni Kodkany vs Air India Ltd. (CA 2914/2019) are exceptional cases wherein the Supreme Court affirmed ₹7.5 crore as compensation due to the death of an individual,” he added.
The case pertains to the accident in Mangaluru when flight IX 812 of Air India Express from Dubai crashed at Mangalore airport on May 22, 2010. A total of 158 people were killed in the incident
“Annexures, conventions and gazette’s are explicitly clear with obligations on death due to negligence caused by an airline’s actions, and this isn’t limited to an aircrash. DGCA’s independent action which followed after the turbulence incident places the burden and responsibility on the airline. This is enough to substantiate SpiceJet’s responsibility and obligation with the rightful compensation and restitution to the victim’s next of kin,” Mark D Martin MRAeS, CEO of Martin Consulting, said.