FAA reaches million-dollar settlment over 2008 Continental Airline crash at DIA, attorney says

Suit: Air traffic control didn't warn about gusts

DENVER - Passengers and crew members who endured a Continental Airlines crash at Denver International Airport in 2008 have reached a million-dollar lawsuit settlement with the Federal Aviation Administration, an attorney for the plaintiffs said Friday.

In December 2008, Continental Flight 1404 slid off a wind-blown runway during a night takeoff and down a ravine, where it caught fire. All 110 passengers and five crew members managed to escape. Six people were seriously injured and dozens others were treated for minor injuries.

Many of the 65 people who sued the FAA over the crash have also settled a separate lawsuit against the airline, said Bruce Lampert, a Westminster attorney who represented 22 passengers and crew members in the lawsuits.

The jetliner crash was blamed on pilot error and a strong crosswind. A 2010 National Transportation Safety Board report said the pilot failed to make the proper rudder adjustments to keep the plane on the runway while dealing with the crosswinds.

Yet, passengers and some crew members who filed the FAA lawsuit also blamed air traffic controllers for failing to inform pilots of crosswinds gusting to 40 mph, Lampert said.

The NTSB report also cited air traffic controllers' failure to provide "key, available" information about the wind as a contributing factor.

"When we got into the case we found out that FAA withheld information regarding the winds from the pilot," Lampert said, adding that an FAA handbook requires air traffic controllers to inform pilots of gusting winds in the "centerfield" of the runway, not just average wind speed where planes land and take off.

"If you've got a 40-knot crosswind, you better tell (pilots) that. They never told them that," Lampert said. "The FAA is really as culpable as the airline for this crash."

The total amount of money the FAA agreed pay out in the settlement was not contained in settlement papers filed in Denver federal court.

But Lampert said the settlement runs into several million dollars. An FAA spokesman referred 7NEWS to the U.S. Department of Justice, whose lawyers represented the agency in the lawsuit. 7NEWS could not reach the DOJ for comment late Friday afternoon.

While some people were physically injured in the crash, Lampert said most of the passengers had claims for emotional stress damages.

They jumped from the wrecked plane in the dark into knee-deep snow and scrambled up an embankment -- only to turn and see the airplane burst into flames, Lampert said.   

"A lot of these people were carrying little kids and babies," he said.

"One mother had to hand a child off to a complete stranger, because she had another child and she couldn't carry them both" during the evacuation, Lampert said. "So to save her child, she gave him to a stranger and said, 'Take him to safety.'"

"Luckily, the person she handed him off to was a daycare provider and pretty used taking care of kids. They became good friends afterward," Lampert said.

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