Continental chief escapes Concorde crash charges

9th March 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 8 (AFP) - A Continental Airlines vice president will not face charges in connection with the Concorde crash five years ago which a report found was triggered by a piece of metal that fell from a Continental DC-10, a judicial source said Tuesday.

PARIS, March 8 (AFP) - A Continental Airlines vice president will not face charges in connection with the Concorde crash five years ago which a report found was triggered by a piece of metal that fell from a Continental DC-10, a judicial source said Tuesday.

Ken Burt, vice president of the US company's technical division, appeared for seven and a half hours on Tuesday before examining magistrate Christophe Regnard for a "first questioning with a view to being placed under investigation," a judicial source said.

"The judge considered that no charges existed against him, and from now on he is not under investigation. He will remain a legally represented witness," said defence lawyer Olivier Metzner.

Burt maintained that the airline did not think it was responsible for the accident that killed 113 people, Metzner said.

The vice president was questioned about the "famous little plate" and "how it could have been lost" from the DC-10, the lawyer said, adding that Burt "explained all that and his explanation convinced the judge."

Continental was widely expected to be placed under judicial investigation for "involuntary homicide and injuries," which under French law is normally a first step towards eventual criminal charges.

A judicial enquiry into the crash of the supersonic airliner near Charles de Gaulle airport in July 2000 concluded in December that a titanium alloy strip fell from the Continental Airlines plane that took off just before the Concorde.

The piece of metal punctured the Concorde's tyre, sending debris upwards into the fuel tank which then exploded. All 109 people on board as well as four people on the ground were killed.

The report said the strip played a "direct" role in the accident, although a "relative weakness" on the interior surface of the Concorde's distinctive delta-shaped wings which held its fuel tanks also contributed.

It said that the metal strip installed by Continental Airlines was a replacement part whose usage was not sanctioned by the American civil aviation authorities and that "the rules of aeronautical metal construction were not respected by the employees of Continental Airlines."

Burt told the judge that "the material was in perfect conformity and was stronger than the original material," Metzner said, insisting that the titanium alloy was allowed by the rules.

Continental Airlines has said it would fight any criminal charges stemming from a French probe of the accident.

"We strongly disagree that anything Continental did was the cause of the Concorde accident, and we are outraged that media reports have said criminal charges may be made against our company and its employees," spokeswoman Rahsaan Johnson said in a statement released after publication of the report.

"We are confident that there is no basis for a criminal action, and we will defend any charges in the appropriate courts."

If liability is established in the courts the ruling could lead to millions of euros in damages claims.

A member of Continental's legal department will be heard on Thursday.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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