Hurt Kiwi fighting on

By Joanne Carroll

Kiwi flight attendant, injured when Airbus nosedived, takes case to court in US

Example of damage to the fittings above passenger seats in the rear section of the Qantas Airbus 330. Photo / Supplied by ATSB
Example of damage to the fittings above passenger seats in the rear section of the Qantas Airbus 330. Photo / Supplied by ATSB

A New Zealander is suing for more than half a million dollars after he was seriously injured when his international flight plunged more than 200 metres in two seconds.

The Qantas flight from Singapore to Perth nosedived twice after a technological malfunction, injuring 119 of the 315 people on board, an Australian Transport Safety Bureau inquiry has found. Unrestrained passengers and crew hit the top of the cabin - photos show the holes that their heads punched in the underside of the baggage compartments.

The worst hurt was Fasi Maiava, known to friends as Fuzzy Tuna, who was working as a flight attendant at the back of the plane.

Maiava suffered brain and leg injuries caused when he was thrown around the aircraft in the 2008 incident.

For the first time, it has been revealed the 50-year-old grandfather and father of five lives on Auckland's North Shore.

His daughter Nysha Maiava said her father was having treatment in hospital. The family were visiting him daily and he was progressing slowly, she said.

His lawyer, US aviation injury lawyer Floyd Wisner, said Maiava was one of 11 people seriously injured on the flight who were suing Airbus and aviation technology giant Northrop Grumman.

His client had to have both knees replaced in 2011.

"He is able to walk but his leg gives out in a spasm so he falls down. He has visual disturbances and can't see very well. He definitely has post-traumatic stress. He has been treated by a whole raft of doctors and is still in and out of hospital," Wisner said.

"He was a flight attendant so he was at the back of the plane helping prepare the meals. When the plane dropped he hit his head on the ceiling and landed on the dinner cart. He couldn't move and had to be taken to hospital once the plane landed."

Maiava was covered by insurance but was seeking damages after a settlement was unable to be reached.

Wisner represented 160 people who had been injured or traumatised in the plane. Of those, 149 had settled out of court, receiving payments of up to $400,000 each.

But the remaining 11 were pursuing their lawsuit against the French aircraft maker and Northrop Grumman, which made the plane's Air Data Inertial Reference Unit.

Wisner said the unit had given incorrect information to the onboard computer about the plane's pitch. The plane dropped suddenly and the pilot was unable to control the plane.

"The plane was screaming towards the water.

"The pilot was only able to take control when the computer gave him back control. It was terribly frightening and traumatic experience," he said.

Airbus had agreed not to contest liability but was contesting damages. Northrop Grumman was still contesting liability so both would go to trial in the US this year.

Injuries ranged from psychological trauma to physical injuries such as fractured vertebrae, broken bones and serious lacerations.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau, in its final report into the A330 incident, found that a constant stream of incorrect data messages caused the terrifying plunges.

The bureau found that while the plane was cruising at 37,000ft, one of its three air data units started sending intermittent, incorrect information on airspeed, altitude, air pressure, temperature and the flying angle to the computers controlling the flight.

Within two minutes, the aircraft's flight control computers commanded the aircraft to pitch down.

The A330 plunged 150ft in two seconds as part of a 690ft, 23-second dive. The 60 passengers not wearing seatbelts and standing crew hit the ceiling.

Two minutes later, it plunged again, diving 400ft in 15 seconds.

Airbus has redesigned the algorithm to prevent the same type of accident from occurring again, but Wisner said he did not believe the issue had been completely rectified.

- Herald on Sunday

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