Compo may be limited without proof

PAUL EASTON
Last updated 05:00 23/07/2014
Satellite image of MH17 crash site in Ukraine
Reuters

CRASH SITE: A satellite image of MH17 crash site in Ukraine shows the spread of debris.

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New Zealand families of victims of the MH17 disaster may have to prove Malaysia Airlines should not have been flying over a war zone if they are to claim more than standard compensation.

The airline yesterday said it would offer the families of each MH17 passenger an initial payment of NZ$5762 as a "goodwill" gesture to help with their economic needs.

"This financial assistance will not be offset against the final compensation, nor affect the families' legal rights to claim."

A surface-to-air missile destroyed the Malaysia Airlines jet over a part of eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russian separatists, killing all 298 people on board.

Passengers with New Zealand links included Australian-based Kiwi Mary Menke, 65, and former Queenstown restaurateur Benoit Chardome, who was originally from Belgium and living in Bali.

Rob Ayley, 29, of Otaki, was heading home after a month-long trip around Europe visiting fellow rottweiler breeders. The Ayley family was yesterday working with authorities, including Malaysia Airlines, police, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat).

New Zealand aviation law expert Nathan Gedye, QC, described the initial payment as a "standard amount" to cover basic needs. "It's nothing more or less than that."

Future compensation claims would be under the Montreal Convention, which was enshrined in New Zealand law. Under the convention, airlines must pay up to $200,000 for each passenger on the flight, regardless of who was to blame.

Further claims would depend on whether Malaysia Airlines could prove it was not negligent.

"A missile could be one of the few cases where an airline may have had no fault, though someone could try and make something out of the fact that it was flying over that area," Gedye said.

Compensation claims were based on lost earnings. "An infant or baby might get nothing, a highly paid executive might get a lot, and elderly people with no income probably very little."

The convention was designed to provide compensation for the families of air disaster victims quickly and with minimal litigation, Gedye said.

Rebels yesterday handed over black box data recorders to Malaysian officials.

The Ukrainian government issued a statement saying that 282 bodies and 87 "body fragments" had been recovered from the sprawling crash site.

Ukrainian authorities have agreed that all bodies will be transferred to the Netherlands for formal identification and repatriation.

"This will be a complicated task and there is no agreed time frame around how long this could take," an Mfat spokeswoman said. "Mfat are keeping the New Zealand families updated on progress."

New Zealand's permanent representative to the United Nations, Jim McLay, spoke yesterday at the adoption of a Security Council resolution calling for an international investigation into the tragedy and full access to the crash site.

"There is increasing evidence that the crash of flight MH17 was no accident, that this was a criminal act, punishable by national or international law. Those responsible must be brought to account."

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