England

Airline 'disregarded safety' prior to Phuket crash

The Phuket plane crash in 2007
Image caption The One-Two-Go Thai aircraft was flying from Bangkok

A budget airline that operated a plane which crashed in Thailand leaving 90 people dead "exhibited a flagrant disregard for passenger safety", a coroner has said.

The coroner, sitting in Lincoln, criticised the firm One-Two-Go, and its parent company Orient Thai Airlines.

He recorded a narrative verdict into the deaths of people from south Wales, Gainsborough, Scunthorpe and Bristol.

The plane skidded at Phuket airport in September 2007.

The two-day inquest in Lincoln has heard how the plane skidded on the runway and burst into flames as it landed during terrible weather conditions on 16 September 2007.

Bethan Jones, 22, from Porth in the Rhondda survived the crash but died in a Bangkok specialist burns unit 11 days later. Her boyfriend, 22-year-old Alex Collins, from Maesteg near Bridgend, died at the scene.

The couple had only just begun their six-month trip of a lifetime.

Susan Howell, 27, and her partner Stephen Saunby, 41, from Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, who were due to get married in Thailand, also died at the airport along with their friends Neil Slater, 43, and his 31-year-old wife Helen Slater, from Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire.

The other two British victims were married couple Anthony Weston, 68, and 64-year Judith, from Bristol, who were planning a move to Australia.

'No adequate training'

Coroner Stuart Fisher said pilot error was partly to blame for the crash.

But he added this had to be understood in the context of a corporate culture which encouraged the crew to work well beyond their safe flying hours and failed to provide them with adequate training.

He said: "It is my understanding, given the evidence that I've heard, that the airline company One-Two-Go exhibited a flagrant disregard for passenger safety."

The coroner said: "The primary failure, as far as I'm concerned, relates to the corporate culture which prevailed both prior to and following the air crash.

"It seems to me that all airlines should place passenger safety as a matter of the highest priority.

"Clearly, this was not the case with One-Two-Go airlines."

Procedures breached

Mr Fisher said he did not have the power to force the chief executives of the firms to appear at the hearing, at the Lincoln Cathedral Centre, which he said was a shame.

The coroner heard how an investigation showed the two pilots breached standard operating procedures in six areas as they attempted to land.

At the very last moment of the landing approach the co-pilot - who was flying the plane - decided to "go around" again and transferred the controls to the captain.

But, the inquest heard, he failed to engage the "Take Off Go Around" switch.

This meant that when he took his hand off the throttle the automatic system took over and returned the engines to their landing mode and the plane lost the power it needed to climb.

Mr Fisher said the failure to engage this switch was a critical factor.

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