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Saturday, February 4, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Alaska Airlines sued in jet mishap

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

Six Alaska Airlines passengers have sued the airline and the company that handles its Sea-Tac Airport ground operations claiming they suffered "severe physical and emotional injuries" when a hole ripped open in the plane's sidewall on a Dec. 26 flight.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleges the damage to Flight 536 from Seattle to Burbank, Calif., was caused by negligence on the part of Alaska and Menzies Aviation.

Alaska hired Menzies in May to take over its baggage handling and other ramp operations at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

An Alaska Airlines spokeswoman said the carrier has not seen the lawsuit.

"We're not able to respond to something we haven't yet received," Amanda Tobin said.

Two of the six plaintiffs, Mark Reveley and Emma Hellsten, are California residents who were returning home from Seattle after the holidays.

The other four — Bengt Hellsten, Hanna Hellsten, Andreas Mikulic Andersson and Margareta Sjodin — are residents of Sweden.

A preliminary investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board found that the MD-83 was bumped on the ground by a baggage loader operated by a Menzies worker.

The worker did not report the incident, and the plane was allowed to depart. Shortly after takeoff, when the plane reached 26,000 feet, a 1-foot by 6-inch hole opened in the fuselage, causing the plane to rapidly depressurize.

The pilots made an "emergency descent" to a lower altitude, according to the NTSB, and "an uneventful landing" at Sea-Tac followed.

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The lawsuit contends each of the plaintiffs "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 incident.

The suit seeks unspecified punitive and compensatory damages.

David Bowermaster: 206-464-2724 or dbowermaster@seattletimes.com

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