Germanwings victim families reject compensation offer

Parents of German children killed criticise Lufthansa offer as ‘insult’ in emotional letter

The families of 18 German schoolchildren killed last March in the Germanwings air crash have rejected a compensation offer from the airline's parent company, Lufthansa.

In an emotional letter, parents said they were still waiting for an apology from Lufthansa after "a pilot from your company killed our children". They dismissed as an insult a compensation offer of €45,000, saying it was the equivalent of what the Lufthansa chief executive Carsten Spohr earns in a week.

The parents of schoolchildren from the western German town of Haltern, who died on a flight home from a trip to Spain, accused Mr Spohr of showing little empathy with families and ignoring invitations to attend victims' funerals. German president Joachim Gauck and Chancellor Angela Merkel had taken time to speak with them, they said.

“Not you. You were there for your customers but not for us parents,” they wrote. “Parents who wrote to you personally, to invite you to the burial of their children, didn’t even get an answer.”

In a reply, a Lufthansa spokesman said Mr Spohr had received no such invitations and had spoken to many family members but “could not speak to each of the thousands of relatives personally”.

The spokesman also disputed the claim that the compensation totalled €45,000 or that it was the equivalent of what Mr Spohr earns in a week. He earns €2.07 million a year, or approximately €39,000 a week.

Legal guidelines

The airline said its offer went beyond legal guidelines: €50,000 in an immediate payment, €25,000 damages and at least an additional €10,000 for close relatives. But relatives said the compensation offer “insults us and our children”.

“A payment from Lufthansa cannot give us back our children,” they wrote. “They could however take away concerns elsewhere, which only add to our pain.”

They said they had yet to hear why Lufthansa and Germanwings did not follow the “four-eyes” principle common at other European and US airlines, ensuring two people are in the cockpit at all times.

Crash investigators believe that Flight 9525 crashed when, after the pilot left the cockpit to visit the toilet, co-pilot Andreas Lubitz locked him out and crashed the plane into a mountain, killing all 150 people on board.

“We’ve not heard an apology over how, with more concern in dealing with such risks, our children could still be alive,” said the letter.

Elmar Giemulla, a lawyer representing 35 relatives of the German victims, presented the letter to Lufthansa on Tuesday with a demand for compensation of up to €300,000 each.

“The indignation is great . . . this is a slap in the face,” said Mr Giemulla, describing the offer as “inappropriate” . The relatives were “very understanding” for Lufthansa’s situation in the weeks after the crash, he said, particularly after board members made positive noises towards relatives. But now relatives felt Lufthansa was not serious about their pain.

“Whether it is the case is not clear, but it comes across that way,” he said. “It seems that, when it comes to euro and cent, Lufthansa is showing its true face.”

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin