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French court to try US airline over Concorde crash

A French judge has ordered Continental Airlines and five individuals to stand trial over the crash eight years ago.

Air France Concorde flight 4590 takes off with fire trailing from its engine from Charles de Gaulle airport in 2000 shortly before it crashed.
Air France Concorde flight 4590 takes off with fire trailing from its engine from Charles de Gaulle airport in 2000 shortly before it crashed.

PARIS // A French judge has ordered the US carrier Continental Airlines and five individuals to stand trial over the crash of an Air France Concorde that killed 113 people, a prosecutor's statement said today. The judge said the defendants, including the man who oversaw the development of the supersonic airliner, would be charged with involuntary manslaughter.

The Concorde crashed in flames minutes after take off from Paris' Charles De Gaulle airport on July 25, 2000, killing all 109 aboard and four people on the ground. Subsequent investigations concluded a narrow strip of metal had fallen onto the runway from a previous Continental flight. This then burst a tyre on the departing Concorde sending shrapnel flying into the plane's oil tanks, which caught fire.

Continental has denied any responsibility for the crash and has said it would fight any charges. Among the five individuals incriminated were two Continental technicians and Henri Perrier, who was involved in the first Concorde flight in 1969 and was head of testing prior to becoming director of the Concorde programme. Another man who worked on the Concorde project and the head of France's civil aviation authority at the time of the crash were also ordered to stand trial.

Judges have already issued an international arrest warrant for a welder named John Taylor, who worked for Continental at the time of the crash, after he failed to appear for questioning about the fixing of a metal strip to the DC10 airliner. The prosecutor's statement said the Continental workers had failed to follow normal procedures over repairs to the DC10. The prosecutor said Continental itself had been negligent over the maintenance of its fleet of DC10 aircraft.

An earlier judicial report said the Concorde's manufacturer Aerospatiale, now part of plane-maker EADS, had failed to correct its design after more than 70 incidents involving the plane's tyres occurred between 1979 and 2000. The prosecution says France's civil aviation chief was also negligent because his agency had the responsibility to enforce design safety for the Concorde, which did not add extra protection to its underwing fuel tanks until after the 2000 crash.

Concorde's two operators, Air France and British Airways, eventually took the plane out of commission in 2003. French officials said earlier this year that any trial would need massive organisation and would probably not begin until late this year or early 2009. *Reuters