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French court finds Continental guilty in Concorde jet crash

Ten years after a plane crash killed more than a hundred mostly German victims, a court in France has found American air carrier Continental guilty of manslaughter, while acquitting three French officials.

Concorde plane crash wreckage

The Concorde program was discontinued after the crash

A court in Pontoise near Paris on Monday found Continental Airlines and a mechanic guilty of involuntary manslaughter for their role in the deadly crash of a Concorde jet 10 years ago, fining the airline 200,000 euros ($267,000).

Continental Airlines has criticized the verdict, calling it "absurd" and clearly aimed at shifting blame from Air France and French aviation authorities.

"We strongly disagree with the court's verdict regarding Continental Airlines and John Taylor and will of course appeal this absurd finding," a spokesman for the airline said in a statement.

The trial ran from February to May, when prosecutors asked the court to fine Continental 175,000 euros for manslaughter for its role in the crash. They also sought an 18-month suspended sentence for Continental mechanic John Taylor and his supervisor Stanley Ford.

The prosecution eventually dropped charges against Concorde engineer Jacques Herubel and the former head of French civil aviation Claude Frantzen, but continued to go after 81-year-old Henri Perrier, the head of the Concorde program from 1978 to 1994. The court acquitted all three.

The crash occurred in July 2000 when the Concorde caught fire shortly after taking off from Charles de Gaulle Airport and crashed into a hotel outside Paris. All 109 people on board were killed - nine crew members and 100 tourists, mostly Germans bound for a cruise leaving New York - along with four hotel workers on the ground.

Cause of the crash

Henri Perrier

Former Concorde chief Henri Perrier was acquitted

The resulting accident inquiry released in 2004 found that the cause of the crash was a 43-centimeter (17-inch) strip of titanium that had fallen off a Continental DC-10 plane that took off shortly before the Concorde. The metal strip reportedly shredded a tire on the Concorde, causing a blowout and shooting debris into an engine and fuel tank, which then caught fire.

"Portraying the metal strip as the cause of the accident and Continental and one of its employees as the sole guilty parties shows the determination of the French authorities to shift attention and blame away from Air France," Continental's statement said.

The trial pitted Continental against the now-defunct Concorde program, which provided the world's only supersonic commercial air service. Continental's lawyer Olivier Metzner claimed that the jet had already been on fire well before it allegedly hit the titanium strip.

The investigation placed most of the blame on Continental, while also acknowledging flaws in the Concorde's design. Air France, which operated the flight, was cleared of any responsibility.

A separate suit brought on by Air France against Continental seeks 15 million euros in damages, but was put on hold pending the criminal trial.

Author: Andrew Bowen, Sarah Steffen (AP, AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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