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French court clears Continental of Concorde crash

VERSAILLES, France -- A French appeals court on Thursday absolved Continental Airlines of blame for a 2000 Concorde crash that killed 113 people and cleared a mechanic at the U.S. airline of the charge of involuntary manslaughter.

The verdict comes over a decade after the accident helped to spell the end of the supersonic airliner. A previous court ruled that a small metal strip that fell onto the runway from a Continental aircraft just before the Concorde took off from Paris, caused the crash.

Continental was originally fined 200,000 euros and ordered to pay the Concorde's operator, Air France, a million euros in damages. Continental appealed the verdict which it described as unfair and absurd.

Welder John Taylor was cleared of a 15-month suspended prison sentence for having gone against industry norms and used titanium to forge the piece that dropped off the plane.

Continental, now part of United Continental Holdings , had been ordered under the original ruling to pay 70 percent of any damages payable to families of victims. Airbus parent EADS would have to pay the other 30 percent.

The crash sped up the demise of the droop-nosed Concorde - the fastest commercial airliner in history and a symbol of Franco-British co-operation - as safety concerns coupled with an economic downturn after 9/11 drove away its wealthy customers.

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.

After modifications, the plane returned to service but its operators, Air France and British Airways, retired it in 2003, citing high operating costs and a drop in demand. 

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