Alaska Airlines sued over loss of cabin pressure

Six passengers aboard Alaska Airlines Flight 536 are suing the carrier, saying they suffered severe emotional and physical injuries during a sudden loss of cabin pressure Dec. 26, while the flight was en route to Burbank, Calif., from Seattle.

Authorities said the incident was caused by an unreported collision between the McDonnell-Douglas MD-83 and a baggage carrier operated by Alaska Air contractor Menzies Aviation at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Feb. 3, said the depressurization - and the passengers’ alleged trauma - was caused by negligence on the part of both airline and contractor. "The defendants in this case negligently and carelessly disregarded and violated numerous safety procedures and training standards, and have caused these passengers - their customers - substantial injury," said James P. Kreindler of the Kreindler & Kreindler law firm.

"For this collision to go unreported prior to take off is really inexcusable, and is reflective of a troubling recent history between these two companies. Some actually witnessed a piece of the plane flying past their windows," a release from Kreindler stated.

In a preliminary report on the incident, the National Transportation Safety Board said a baggage worker bumped the fuselage of the aircraft with his baggage cart without telling anyone. The flight from Seattle to Burbank took off without incident. But when it reached 26,000 feet, it suddenly lost cabin pressure. The pilots made an emergency descent to below 13,000 feet, continuing on to what they described as a routine landing back in Seattle.

The suit says the six passengers "suffered and will continue to suffer physical pain, emotional stress, loss of enjoyment of life and other permanent compensable injuries" as a result of the mishap.

Lawyers for the six are asking for unspecified damages. "Alaska Air knew or should have known that Menzies was not competently handling its ground service responsibilities, and yet it continued to use the company to perform those services," said attorney Daniel O. Rose of Kreindler. "The negligence of both companies resulting in the traumatic Flight 536 incident is quite clear." Menzies took over Alaska’s baggage handling duties in May.

There have since been several lesser incidents involving Alaska and its contractors. But one, in particular, stands out. In December, aboard the exact same flight on the same route, a contract mechanic apparently left a gear door open forcing another emergency return to Seattle.

Alaska Airlines officials said they would not comment on the lawsuit until they had reviewed the filing. Menzies Aviation officials could not be reached in London, England, by press time.

02/11/2006 - 8:00pm