French Concorde judge to quiz Continental staff

16th February 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 16 (AFP) - A French judge investigating the July 2000 Concorde crash on Wednesday has postponed his questioning of employees from Continental Airlines about the deadly accident due to a technicality, court sources said.

PARIS, Feb 16 (AFP) - A French judge investigating the July 2000 Concorde crash on Wednesday has postponed his questioning of employees from Continental Airlines about the deadly accident due to a technicality, court sources said.

Judge Christophe Regnard was set to quiz two workers for the US airline after an enquiry determined that a part from a Continental DC-10, which used the runway at Charles de Gaulle airport shortly before the Concorde, was to blame for the crash.

But the late appointment of an attorney for a Continental maintenance mechanic forced Regnard to postpone the hearing, court sources said, adding that a hearing of the second employee scheduled for Friday was also in doubt.

The two hearings were expected to take place in the coming weeks, the sources said.

Early next month, on March 8 and 10, Regnard is to move up Continental's hierarchy and question a vice-president of the airline and another senior executive.

A French legal inquiry led by Regnard concluded in December that a titanium strip that fell from the DC-10 sliced through the Concorde's tyres, sending rubber chunks through a fuel tank and causing the supersonic jet to fall from the sky in a fireball.

The crash of the New York-bound Air France Concorde killed all 109 people on board as well as four people on the ground.

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.

Those findings expose Continental to a potential criminal lawsuit and millions of euros in damages.

Sources close to the French probe said Regnard might put the two Continental employees - both of them US citizens - under criminal investigation for manslaughter depending on their responses, to be made with the assistance of an interpreter.

Such a move is one step short of charges being laid under French law. According to the SNPL French pilots' union, which is a party to the case, the two workers are a mechanic who fitted the titanium strip to the DC-10 and his quality-control supervisor.

Regnard's report found that the strip, used in engine housings, should have been made of aluminium, a softer alloy which would not have cut the Concorde's tyres.

The component was replaced with a non-standard one - made of much harder titanium - by Continental's maintenance unit in Houston, Texas.

"The fact that the strip from the DC-10 was of different material, titanium, than that originally used, had a direct incidence on the Concorde's crash," the report said.

The accident on July 25, 2000 would not have happened without the 44-centimetre (17-inch) titanium strip falling off the Continental DC-10 five minutes before the Concorde used the same runway, it said, stressing that the object had a "direct causal role".

The fiery crash of the needle-nosed jet created headlines around the world and ultimately contributed to the aviation icon being pulled from the skies in 2003.

Continental Airlines has categorically denied any responsibility for the crash and 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," Continental spokeswoman Rahsaan Johnson said in a statement released in December after the publication of Regnard's report.

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

© AFP

Subject: French News

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