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Boeing, Pratt & Whitney Held Liable for 1984 Cameroon Airlines Tragedy

The two companies were ordered to pay over $250 million in damages.

A Cameroon Airlines 737 (Photo: Raimund Stehmann (GFDL or GFDL ), via Wikimedia Commons)

On Aug. 30, 1984, a Boeing 737-200 belonging to Cameroon Airlines, the now-defunct Cameroonian national airline, caught fire during a taxiing phase before takeoff at Douala International Airport. Forty years later, the Wouri High Court in Douala, Cameroon on March 11, 2024, ruled that this accident is the responsibility of Boeing and Pratt & Whitney.

The State of Cameroon, represented by the Minister of State, Minister of Justice, and Keeper of the Seals, along with Cameroon Airlines in Liquidation, emerged victorious in their pursuit of justice against aviation giants Boeing and Pratt & Whitney.

The case, arising from the tragic incident dating back to 1984, centered on the catastrophic failure of a 737 aircraft registered as TJ-CBD, operating Flight 786, a scheduled domestic passenger flight from Douala International Airport, Cameroon, to Garoua via Yaoundé.

The aircraft faced its demise on runway 12/30 at Douala, as it taxied for takeoff with 109 passengers and a crew of seven onboard. The incident occurred when its number two engine suffered an uncontained compressor failure which started a fire.

Although all occupants evacuated the aircraft, two passengers lost their lives due to external fire. The aircraft was ultimately destroyed beyond repair.

Court Findings

The court findings revealed that debris released by the seventh-stage disk perforated the right wing tank, causing fuel leakage onto the engine’s hot components and the surrounding area. Sparks generated by the disk’s contact with the ground ignited the fuel, resulting in a devastating fire.

After extensive legal proceedings, presided over by Mr. Dipanda Mbia Eugène Aimé, the tribunal delivered a unanimous verdict, holding Boeing Company and Pratt & Whitney accountable for the negligence that led to the fatal accident. The court’s examination exposed critical breaches in adhering to mandatory air safety standards outlined in the 1944 Chicago Convention and the United States’ “Code of Federal Regulations” of April 6, 1970.

Boeing Company was deemed responsible for the design and conception of the ill-fated Boeing 737-200 aircraft, while Pratt & Whitney was implicated as the designer and manufacturer of the engine component that contributed to the tragedy. The court concluded that the failure to uphold stringent safety protocols jeopardized the lives of passengers and crew, constituting a serious violation of tort law.

Boeing Company and Pratt & Whitney have been jointly ordered to compensate Cameroon Airlines in Liquidation with a sum of 158,480,000,000 FCFA (approximately $254,360,400 USD), allocated to address various forms of damages incurred:

  • Aircraft Loss Damages (Replacement Cost to Date): 27,780,000,000 FCFA ($44,560,800 USD)
  • Business Interruption Damages: 127,500,000,000 FCFA ($204,120,000 USD)
  • Non-Pecuniary Damages (Reputation): 3,000,000,000 FCFA ($4,812,000 USD)
  • Legal Fees: 200,000,000 FCFA ($320,960 USD)

This ruling comes amid the ongoing scrutiny of Boeing’s safety record, particularly following the recent mid-flight incident involving an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9. This event has prompted a criminal investigation on the planemaker, coinciding with heightened concerns over Boeing’s safety practices in the wake of fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019.

The aircraft TJ-CBD was delivered to Cameroon Airlines in 1977, which faced operational challenges before ultimately ceasing operations in March 2008. Its role as Cameroon’s flag carrier was subsequently assumed by Camair-Co.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on March 21, 2024 at 2:30 p.m. ET to correct an error regarding the engine fire. 

Victor Shalton


  • Victor Shalton

    Born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya, Victor’s love for aviation goes way back to when he was 11-years-old. Living close to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, he developed a love for planes and he even recalls aspiring to be a future airline executive for Kenya Airways. He also has a passion in the arts and loves writing and had his own aviation blog prior to joining AirlineGeeks. He is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business administration at DeKUT and aspiring to make a career in a more aviation-related course.

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