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Continental and welder guilty in Concorde crash trial

posted 6 Dec 2010, 08:07 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 6 Dec 2010, 08:10 ]

French court finds Continental Airlines, and a welder, guilty in Concorde crash trial. Continental and EADS have been ordered to split the damages 70-30.

PONTOISE, FRANCE, (DECEMBER 6, 2010) REUTERS - A French court on Monday (December 6) found Continental Airlines and a mechanic at the airline guilty of involuntary manslaughter for their role in the 2000 Concorde crash that spelled the end of the supersonic airliner.

The airline, which is now called United Continental Holdings following a merger, and aerospace group

EADS must split 70-30 any damages payable to families of victims of the crash, which killed 113 people, the court ruled.

The verdict exposes Continental and EADS to damages claims that could run to tens of millions of euros. The airline was fined 200,000 euros (265,000 US dollars) by the court and welder John Taylor was given a 15-month suspended prison sentence.

Continental Airlines said it would appeal against what it called an "absurd" verdict. Taylor's lawyer said he would also appeal.

"We only dealt with the French interests, in disregard for global aeronautical interests, meaning that the Concorde accident could recur as long as we let planes in France fly in the conditions that we let the Concorde fly. I remind you that more than 10 years before the occurrence of the 115 deaths, the French government debated if it should let Concorde fly. The response should have been no and it (the government) said yes. It was a political decision, a protectionist decision in the French interest, which led to the death of 115 people," said Olivier Metzner, a lawyer acting for Continental Airlines.

Meanwhile, Fernand Garnault, lawyer for Air France, said he was happy with the verdict.

"It has been obvious since the beginning that Continental was responsible for the accident and for the death of the passengers and crew in the plane. I would say that the judgment appears completely in keeping, to the very last details, with what Air France has always supported and you won't be upset with me if I congratulate myself," Garnault told reporters.

The court said EADS, which now owns the French factories which partly built the Concorde airliners, had some civil liability in the crash, which hastened the end of an era of glamorous supersonic travel between London, Paris and New York.

The Air France Concorde, carrying mostly German tourists bound for a Caribbean cruise, was taking off from Paris on July 25, 2000 when an engine caught fire. Trailing a plume of flames, it crashed into a hotel near Charles de Gaulle airport.

All 109 passengers and four people on the ground died.

The court in the town of Pontoise, north of Paris, blamed maintenance practices for the fact that a small piece of metal dropped off a Continental aircraft that took off just before the Concorde and punctured its tyres, sending debris into the Concorde's fuel tanks and sparking a fatal fire.

The crash hastened the demise of Concorde and its two operators, Air France and British Airways, took the plane out of service in 2003.

"This trial has made it obvious that Concorde, this superb airplane, suffered from serious technical inadequacy, of poor reserves which was known since 1979, and these poor reserves were not dealt with. It wasn't until after the accident, just after the accident, they knew what was to be done, that is, protect the reserves and change the tyres," said Roland Rappaport, a lawyer acting for the families of the victims.

EADS referred queries on Monday's ruling to its lawyer in the case, who was not immediately available for comment.

The court found three French aviation officials not guilty.