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Tue, Jan 13, 2009

First Lawsuit Filed In Continental 1404 Takeoff Accident

Women Claim Takeoff Was "Negligently Aborted"

The first of what will likely be several lawsuits has been filed against Continental Airlines, regarding last month's takeoff crash of a Boeing 737-500 at Denver International Airport.

As ANN reported, Continental Flight 1404 bound for Houston, TX veered off Runway 34R during its takeoff run at DEN on December 20, and was destroyed. There were no fatalities from the accident and post-impact fire, though 38 out of the 110 passengers and crewmembers onboard were hospitalized.

Initial speculation has centered on the possibility a fairly stiff westerly crosswind may have "weathervaned" the plane off the left side of the runway, and across a shallow, snow-covered ravine.

According to The Rocky Mountain News, Houston-area residents Melissa Craft, 25, and 21-year-old Emily Pellegrini claim the pilot "negligently aborted" the flight. The lawsuit doesn't explicitly state how the attempt to abort the takeoff was negligent... but the language seems to assert the plane would have managed to take flight had the crew not attempted to reject the takeoff.

That doesn't quite line up with what the National Transportation Safety Board has stated, however.

While the investigation is ongoing and no conclusions have yet been made, the NTSB notes pilots David Butler and Chad Levang first attempted to reject the takeoff seven seconds after the plane had already departed the runway surface. That raises the question of whether the aircraft would have still been able to take off at all... or, if failure to reject the takeoff when they did would have sent the plane careening even further across the ground.

A spokeswoman for Continental called the lawsuit "premature," noting the investigation is still in the initial stages.

"Continental is continuing to focus on providing assistance to the passengers and crew of Flight 1404," spokeswoman Julie King said in a written statement. "We are also continuing to participate in the NTSB investigation, and this process is likely to continue for months," King added. "Since the facts of the accident are still being investigated, the allegations are premature.

"We're prepared to defend the company's actions and those of our crew," she added.

Attorney Jason A. Gibson, who filed the suit on behalf of the two women, counters airline officials have attempted to sway NTSB investigators into determining the crosswind was to blame for the crash, when he says it was pilot error.

"Continental knows what happened. They have access to all the records. They have access to the pilots," Gibson said. "Continental's already putting a spin on things. ... I want to protect (his clients') rights now."

Craft and Pellegrini were both returning home from holiday vacations in Colorado. Pelligrini asserts she couldn't open her seatbelt while trying to evacuate the plane, and that she later slipped and fell on leaking jet fuel. Craft says she suffered a back injury, and emotional trauma from the accident.

The women also take Continental to task for how the carrier has reimbursed passengers for their lost personal items destroyed in the crash. Gibson says Continental is "putting passengers through hoops," adding the airline requires a "personal shopper" to accompany the women as they buy replacement items. They also resent the airline's $3,000 limit on reimbursement.

FMI: www.continental.com, www.ntsb.gov

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