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Worker's Family Sues Over Fatal Boeing 777 Air Bag Injury

The man was working on a seat belt air bag replacement that inflated explosively.

The family of a man who was fatally injured while he was working on a seat belt air bag replacement that inflated explosively is suing Boeing Co. and a supplier.

The lawsuit filed this week in King County Superior Court says Kenneth Otto suffered massive head injuries while he was installing the unit on a 777 at Boeing's Everett factory. He died a month later. The accident occurred when workers were called to deal with an air bag that had discharged for no reason, according to the Seattle Times.

Otto's family and Christopher Gee, who was helping Otto, are suing Boeing and the air bag manufacturer, AmSafe.

The lawsuit says the plane's buyer, Singapore Airlines, discovered a discharged air bag in a business-class seat as it prepared to take delivery of the jet. Neither Boeing nor AmSafe conducted an examination to find what caused the malfunction, which later was traced to a short circuit in the wires controlling the device, according to the suit.

A spokesman for Chicago-based Boeing declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Seat belt air bags are typically installed only in the lap belts of business-class seats that can lie flat and are angled to face an aisle, or in seats that face a bulkhead wall or some other hard surface. In a crash, pressurized gas inflates the air bag "upward and away from the lap belt, filling the space in front of the passenger," according to the lawsuit.

Boeing asked Jamco America Inc., the company that usually installs the 777 air bags at its nearby airplane seat factory, to replace or repair the device on the plane.

Otto was a Jamco employee; Gee worked for Vartan Aviation Group, which works on Boeing airplane interiors.

Otto had installed more than 150 AmSafe seat belt systems at the Jamco factory before they were put into a plane, but "neither Jamco nor Vartan workers had ever installed a NexGen AmSafe air bag seat belt system on a seat on Boeing aircraft on the Everett flight line," according to the lawsuit.

The suit says "Boeing required the work be performed within the tight confines of the airplane. No further guidance or assistance was provided to the two workers."

While they were replacing the air bag, "suddenly and without warning, the air bag inflator discharged ... (and) launched the partially attached device into Kenneth Otto's face," the lawsuit said.

The suit claims the device was defective, and neither Boeing nor AmSafe had developed procedures for replacing the seat belt air bag on the plane.

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