Air Canada Flight 624 passengers receiving $5K cheques from airline

Passengers from Air Canada Flight 624 confirmed to CBC News Thursday that the airline has been sending out letters and cheques to those who were on board when the plane crash landed at Halifax Stanfield International Airport early Sunday morning.

Lawyer Ray Wagner calls it 'a gratuity' and says $5K payments don't change airline's liability

Transportation Safety Board investigators and firefighters work at the wreck site of Air Canada Flight 624 at Stanfield International Airport in Halifax. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Passengers from Air Canada Flight 624 confirmed to CBC News Thursday that the airline has been sending out letters and cheques to those who were on board when the plane crash landed at Halifax Stanfield International Airport early Sunday morning.

One passenger, who did not want to be named, said she received a cheque for $5,000 on Wednesday. The woman said it was couriered to her.

Another passenger who was sent a cheque said he has consulted with a lawyer to find out if he can cash the cheque and still be part of a class action lawsuit. He said he's still waiting for legal advice.

Personal injury lawyer Ray Wagner, whose office is in Halifax, said he has read about five of the letters.

"The $5,000 is not an admission of liability, it is a payment for their expenses and inconvenience," he said. "If there is a settlement, at the end of the day, for that individual, then that $5,000 will be deducted from it."

He said passengers from Flight 624 that get cheques can cash them, but should be cautious.

"They should have it looked at by a lawyer before they do so, just to make sure there's no changes in the text [of the letter]."

In a copy of the letter provided to CBC News, Air Canada refers to the crash as an "unfortunate experience" and says "we certainly understand the events were disturbing to you." It also gives passengers a 1-800 number to call to deal with any losses or expenses related to the crash.

Air Canada spokesperson Angela Mah said the airline continues to deal directly with passengers with any matters they may have.

"Contrary to statements by third parties, there is no requirement for our customers to sign any commitment," she said.

Wagner is one of the lawyers pursuing a class action lawsuit against Air Canada and said he has been contacted by passengers with far more serious physical injuries than the airline first led people to believe.

'Deep psychological injuries'

He said some passengers have "deep psychological injuries."

"That $5,000 certainly doesn't cover anywhere close to the losses," he said.

He also wonders about the airline's motivation.

"I think they are certainly trying to pacify passengers and also to appear responsible in the press," he said. "They may have other motivations, but I'd be concerned that it was anything to do with trying to gut the class, in other words, trying to discourage people from participating in the broader class action that will be going ahead."

The president and CEO of Halifax International Airport Authority also had an update Thursday afternoon on the status of operations at the airport.

Joyce Carter said work continues to get runway 05/23, the main runway, back in service. She said the airport is assessing the condition of the surface, inspecting damage to lighting and any impact on the neighbouring environment.

Once the runway has been declared safe, Carter said it will be reopened.

On Tuesday, Air Canada removed the wreckage of the crashed Air Canada plane from the runway.

Carter said the secondary runway at the airport can handle all scheduled traffic, as long as weather conditions are favourable.

She said the terminal building's backup generators were also tested Thursday with no problems and no indication why they unexpectedly shut down after Sunday's crash.

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