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In Re: Air Crash Disaster Over

January 11, 2011

IN RE: AIR CRASH DISASTER OVER
MAKASSAR STRAIT, SULAWESI



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marvin E. Aspen, District Judge:

Centralized before the Honorable Marvin E. Aspen

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This multi-district litigation ("MDL") arises from a plane crash off the coast of Indonesia on January 1, 2007 ("the crash"). Presently before us is Defendants' joint Motion to Dismiss on the Grounds of Forum Non Conveniens ("Motion"). (Case No. 09-cv-3805, Dkt. Nos. 65--66.*fn1

We grant the Motion.

I. BACKGROUND

1. The Crash

On January 1, 2007, Adam SkyConnection Airlines ("Adam Air") Flight DHI 574 between the Indonesian islands of Java and Sulawesi disappeared over the Makassar Strait. (Dkt. No. 68, Ex. A at 1 [hereinafter "Official Report"].*fn2 ) The plane was a 737-4Q8 manufactured by The Boeing Company ("Boeing"). (Id.) Investigators located wreckage from the plane in the waters off the coast of Sulawesi nine days after the plane's disappearance. (Id.) There were 102 people on board the plane at the time it disappeared. (Id.) All are presumed dead. (Id. at 9.)

In the wake of the crash, the Indonesian government conducted an extensive investigation and issued a report on its causes. (Dkt. No. 68 ¶ 9.) The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board ("NTSB") and other international organizations provided assistance in the investigation. (Id. ¶ 10.) Boeing served as a technical advisor to the NTSB representative as is apparently common in such investigations. (Id.) Based on the Cockpit Voice Recorder ("CVR") and Digital Flight Data Recorder ("DFDR") recovered from the wreckage, the investigators concluded that the pilots experienced "anomalies" with the Inertial Reference System ("IRS") during the flight. (Official Report at 1.) The pilots then "became engrossed with trouble shooting [the] anomalies for at least the last 13 minutes of the flight, with minimal regard to other flight requirements." (Id.) During this troubleshooting, the plane's autopilot disengaged and the plane banked to the right and down. (Id.) The report continued: "Preoccupation with [the IRS] malfunction . . . diverted both pilots' attention from the flight instruments and allowed the increasing descent and bank angle to go unnoticed. The pilots did not detect and appropriately arrest the descent soon enough to prevent loss of control." (Id. at 2.) In short, investigators concluded that the pilots became distracted by the problem with the IRS and stopped flying the plane.

When the pilots did attempt to correct the plane's inadvertent descent, they failed to level the plane's wings first, as is the standard operating procedure. (Id. at 1.) As a result, the plane experienced g-forces and airspeeds "beyond [its] design limitations." (Id. at 1-2.) Twenty seconds prior to the end of the recorded data, the CVR recorded a "thump, thump" sound and the "[f]light recorder data indicated that a significant structural failure occurred." (Id. at 2.)

In addition to pilot error, the report also cited Adam Air's inadequate pilot training and maintenance as contributing causes of the accident. (Id. at 2--3, 57--58.) Regarding pilot training, the report concluded that Adam Air had not trained its pilots to deal with IRS malfunctions or to recover from the type of descent the plane experienced. (Id. at 57.) Furthermore, Adam Air had been aware of IRS malfunctions with its fleet of Boeing 737s for more than three months but had failed to resolve these maintenance issues. (Id. at 58.) As the report stated, "[t]he Adam Air maintenance engineering supervision and oversight was not effective and did not ensure that repetitive defects were rectified." (Id.)

Following the accident, Adam Air offered compensation to several of the crash victims' heirs in exchange for signed releases of liability. (Dkt. No. 70, Ex. A.) Although only Adam Air participated in obtaining the releases, the releases purport to absolve all potentially liable parties, including the Defendants in this litigation. (Id. at 2--3.) Representatives of forty-six of the fifty-two decedents in this case signed such releases. (Dkt. No. 70 ¶ 3.) The six decedents whose representatives did not sign such releases were members of the crew. (Id.) Plaintiffs argue these releases are invalid. (Resp. at 21.)

The crash and subsequent investigation also had numerous consequences for the Indonesian airline industry as a whole. On January 11, 2007, ten days after the crash, the President of Indonesia formed a committee to improve air transportation safety in the country. (Dkt. No. 69 ¶ 84.) Shortly thereafter, the Indonesian Ministry of Transportation audited and rated the safety of all Indonesian airlines. (Id. ¶ 85.) Some airlines with a record of poor performance lost their operating privileges. (Id.) In June 2007, the European Union ("E.U.") banned all Indonesian air carriers from E.U. air space. (Id. ¶ 86.) Around the same time, the International Civil Aviation Organization ("ICAO") also warned Indonesia that its civil aviation procedures were not up to international standards. (Id. ¶ 87.) On July 2, 2007, the ICAO and the Indonesian government signed a joint declaration signaling a commitment to improve the safety of the Indonesian civil aviation system. (Id.) This process is ongoing. (Id.)

2. The Present Litigation

In the meantime, thirty-four representatives of the estates of fifty-two of the decedents have brought these consolidated claims for strict products liability, negligence, and negligent entrustment. (Dkt. No. 32.) None of the decedents were U.S. citizens or residents, nor are their representatives. (Dkt. No. 70 ¶ 7.) Defendants include several U.S. corporations and subsidiaries: Boeing, the plane's manufacturer; World Star Aviation Services, Inc. ("World Star"), the company allegedly in charge of the plane's maintenance; Triton Aviation Ltd. ("Triton"), a subsidiary of co-Defendant Triton Aviation Business Services Holdings, LLC and an alleged owner and lessor of the plane; Wells Fargo Bank Northwest, N.A. ("Wells Fargo Bank"), a subsidiary of co-Defendant Wells Fargo & Company and an alleged owner and lessor of the plane; and Honeywell International, Inc. ("Honeywell"), the manufacturer of the plane's IRS. (Dkt. No. 32 at 8--11; Dkt. Nos. 71--76.) Adam Air, an exclusively domestic Indonesian air carrier, is not a party to this litigation. (Dkt. No. 32; Dkt. No. 68 ¶ 7.)

Plaintiffs initially brought three separate actions that are now consolidated in this MDL. (Dkt. No. 1 at 1.) Two of the actions originated here in the Northern District of Illinois, where Boeing has its corporate headquarters. (Id.; Dkt. No. 68 ¶ 23.) Plaintiffs initially filed the actions in state court, and Boeing removed the actions to federal court with the consent of the other Defendants. (Case No. 09-cv-0556, Dkt. No. 1; Case No. 09-cv-00549, Dkt. No. 3.) The third action originated in the Northern District of California, where Defendants World Star and Triton have their headquarters. (Dkt. No. 1; Dkt. No. 74 ¶ 4; Dkt. No. 75 ¶ 4.) That action also began in state court, although Boeing again removed it to federal court with the consent of the other Defendants. (Case No. 09-cv-3815, Dkt. No. 1.) Boeing then moved for consolidation of these three actions pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407. (Dkt. No. 1 at 1.) The U.S. Judicial Panel ...


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