PARIS — Five years after a Concorde crashed in flames outside Paris, killing 113 people, France has taken the first step toward prosecuting an official who oversaw the supersonic jets, judicial officials said Tuesday.
Henri Perrier, a former head of the Concorde program, was placed under investigation — a step short of formal charges — for manslaughter and involuntary injury, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because French law bars the disclosure of information from judicial investigations.
Perrier, 76, served as chief engineer on the Concorde’s first test flight in 1969 and directed the Concorde program in the 1980s and early 1990s. He is the first person to be placed under investigation in the crash. He was questioned by officials for nearly 12 hours on Monday and Tuesday.
Investigating judge Christophe Regnard has summoned three other executives from Concorde-maker Aerospatiale, one of whom was to be questioned Wednesday. Aerospatiale is now part of EADS, the European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co.
Three officials from France’s civil aviation agency, the DGAC, have been called for questioning next month.
The Air France Concorde crashed on July 25, 2000, shortly after takeoff from Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, headed for New York. As it rose from the runway, flames streaked from the jet’s left wing. It crashed moments later, killing all 109 people on board and four on the ground.
Two investigations — one by France’s accident agency, the other by the prosecutors’ office — concluded that a titanium strip left on the runway by a Continental Airlines DC-10 was to blame. The metal strip had caused a Concorde tire to burst, propelling rubber debris that perforated the jet’s fuel tanks, located under the wings.
Continental was placed under investigation in March for alleged manslaughter and involuntary injury. French prosecutors contend that the carrier had violated Federal Aviation Administration rules by using titanium in a part of the plane that normally called for use of aluminum, which is softer.
The French judicial inquiry also determined that the jet’s fuel tanks lacked sufficient protection from shock — and that Concorde’s makers had been aware of the weakness since 1979.
According to that report, which was made public last year, in the 60 cases of ruptured tires recorded since the Concorde entered service, seven led to a punctured tank. The reinforcement of the tanks only took place after the plane restarted service in November 2001, the report said.
In an interview with The Associated Press a year after the crash, Perrier said the Concorde’s makers were stunned by the crash.
“Nothing we knew would ever have led us to believe that such a catastrophe could happen,” said Perrier, who worked with the aircraft until his retirement in 1994 and then joined investigators after the crash to determine what went wrong.
“This was a catastrophic mishap,” he said in the 2001 interview.
The supersonic planes were flown commercially by Air France and British Airways, and were finally retired in 2003 amid ballooning costs and dwindling ticket sales.
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