Concorde crash conviction overturned
A French appeals court has overturned a manslaughter conviction against Continental Airlines for the July 2000 crash that killed 113 people.PT0M53S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2ajkf 620 349 November 30, 2012
PARIS: Continental Airlines has been cleared of any criminal responsibility for the Concorde crash that killed 113 people in 2000, but was still held liable for damages over an accident that hastened the demise of the supersonic jet.
The court says the plane shouldn't have flown. It did fly, but no conclusion is drawn.Stephane Gicquel, victims' representative
The US airline and one of its engineers had been convicted of involuntary manslaughter over the crash, which happened after a metal strip fell off one of its planes and on to the runway of Charles de Gaulle airport shortly before a Concorde aircraft took off.
The strip punctured the supersonic airliner's tyre, propelling debris through a fuel tank under the wing, sparking a catastrophic fire.
But after a lengthy legal battle, a Versailles appeals court on Thursday quashed the convictions, with the judge, Michele Luga, ruling that there was no proven "cause and effect" between the strip's presence and the accident.
Still, the court ruled that Continental bore some civil responsibility and would still have to pay €1 million ($1.24 million) to Air France, the owner of the Concorde, in damages to its "brand image".
Victims' families said they were left with a sense of "powerlessness" that no one had clearly taken the blame for the tragedy. Flight 4590 to New York ploughed into a hotel in a ball of fire shortly after take-off from Charles de Gaulle on July 25, 2000, killing 100 passengers and nine crew and four people on the ground.
The crash hastened the end of the supersonic jet, which had been synonymous with pioneering aviation and luxury, but was a commercial failure. The Concorde program, jointly operated by Air France and British Airways, was taken out of service in 2003.
In 2010, a French court fined Continental €200,000 and handed a 15-month suspended prison sentence to one of its mechanics, John Taylor, an American.
Claude Frantzen, 75, the former head of France's civil aviation authority, had also faced prosecution for negligence. He was accused of ignoring warning signs from a string of tyre incidents on Concorde over a 15-year period, but was acquitted of any offence. Yesterday, Judge Luga overturned the convictions against both Continental and Mr Taylor and upheld the acquittal of Mr Frantzen.
She criticised the French civil aviation authorities, saying that "25 years of operation . . . were littered with numerous cases of tyre damage following more or less serious incidents".
Mr Frantzen, she said, should have proposed "suspending Concorde's flight permit", and that his scrutiny of the jet's flight fitness had "not been up to the mark".
But upholding his acquittal, she said there was no way of proving civil aviation authorities would have taken his advice to ground the jet.
Stephane Gicquel, the head of a group of victims' families, said the ruling left them disappointed.
"The court says the plane shouldn't have flown. It did fly, but no conclusion is drawn," he said, adding that claims there had been political and financial pressure in France to keep Concorde in the air "naturally leave us with a sense of concern and a big question mark".
Continental's lawyer, Olivier Metzner, said the airline's image had been "totally wiped clean" by the ruling.
The decision to uphold Continental's civil responsibility clears the way for Air France to pursue its suit for €15 million damages in a civil case that had been suspended pending this verdict.