Video: U.S. airline charged in 2000 Concorde crash

updated 7/3/2008 2:40:15 PM ET 2008-07-03T18:40:15

A French judge ordered Continental Airlines and five people to stand trial on charges of manslaughter for the 2000 crash of a Concorde jet that killed 113 people, a prosecutor said Thursday.

French investigators say the crash was caused in part by a titanium strip from a Continental Airlines DC-10 that was lying on the runway when the supersonic jet took off. The judge’s order outlines eight years of painstaking efforts to try to pin down who exactly could be tried in court.

Two of the individuals to stand trial are employees of the U.S. carrier, said a statement from the office of Marie-Therese de Givry, prosecutor in the Paris suburb of Pontoise.

Two others were employed by Aerospatiale, the maker of Concorde and the precursor of plane-maker Airbus. The fifth is an employee of the French civilian aviation authority.

The Air France Concorde crashed shortly after takeoff from Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport in July 2000, killing all 109 people on board — mostly German tourists — and four on the ground when it slammed into a hotel.

French investigators have said a metal strip from the Continental airplane caused one of the Concorde’s tires to burst. Debris from the force of the explosion punctured the jet’s fuel tanks. The French judicial inquiry also determined the tanks lacked sufficient protection from shock — and that Concorde’s makers had been aware of the problem since 1979.

The tragedy forced modifications to the aircraft before it was taken out of service in 2003.

The flight, which was headed to New York, was the only fatal crash for the Concorde.

Houston-based Continental Airlines Inc. lashed out at the French courts Thursday.

“These indictments are outrageous and completely unjustified,” said spokeswoman Julie King. “Continental remains firmly convinced that neither it nor its employees were the cause of the Concorde tragedy, and we will defend ourselves vigorously against these charges.”

Thierry Dalmasso, lawyer for the former Aerospatiale employees, said the trial would likely take place in 2009. He insisted that the Concorde crash was impossible to predict, and he said the court did not listen to his clients’ testimony arguing the case should be dropped.

“No negligence could be proved,” he said.

The prosecutor’s office said Continental employee John Taylor had built and installed the metal strip “without respecting the instructions then in effect.” Maintenance chief Stanley Ford must stand trial for validating the installation of the strip, the statement said.

Henri Perrier, ex-chief of the Concorde program; Jacques Herubel, a top Aerospatiale engineer; and Claude Frantzen, who handled the Concorde program for the French civil aviation authority, are accused of ignoring a host of problems, including “neglecting the risk of fires” on the supersonic jet, the prosecutor’s statement said.

They should also have reinforced sections of the aircraft that were vulnerable to projectiles, it said.

The five defendants could face up to three years in prison and 45,000 euros ($71,400) in fines if convicted on the manslaughter charges, while Continental could be ordered to pay heavy fines, damages and interest.

The case comes at a bad time for the aviation industry.

Continental is cutting 3,000 jobs and grounding 67 jets to offset record fuel prices. The price for a barrel of oil neared $146 for the first time ever on Thursday.

Almost all American carriers have announced major cutbacks.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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