French prosecutor seeks suspended jail for 'father' of Concorde

21st May 2010, Comments 0 comments

French prosecutors called Friday for a two-year suspended jail term for an 80-year-old engineer known as the father of the Concorde, at a trial into a deadly crash of the supersonic jet in 2000.

Henri Perrier, who directed the Concorde programme at Aerospatiale, now part of EADS, from 1978 to 1994, is accused of ignoring warning signs from a string of incidents on Concorde planes before the accident outside Paris.

Prosecutors also sought a 175,000-euro (220,000-dollar) fine against Continental Airlines, siding with experts who said the Concorde plane crashed because of a strip of metal that fell off a Continental jet that took off just before it.

The New York-bound Air France jet smashed into a hotel in a ball of fire just after take-off from Paris Charles de Gaulle on July 25, 2000, claiming 113 lives and sounding the death knell for commercial supersonic travel.

The prosecutor singled out what he called "defective overall maintenance" on Continental DC10 aircraft.

He called for 18-month suspended sentences against two of its US employees -- John Taylor, a mechanic who allegedly fitted the non-standard strip, and airline chief of maintenance Stanley Ford.

The prosecution called for charges to be dropped against two other defendants, a former French civil aviation official accusing of overlooking faults on the plane, and another former Concorde engineer.

A French accident inquiry concluded in December 2004 that the disaster was partly caused by a strip of metal that fell on the runway from a Continental DC-10 plane that took off just before the supersonic jet.

The Concorde ran over the super-hard titanium strip, which shredded one tyre, causing a blow-out and sending debris flying into an engine and a fuel tank and setting it on fire, according to investigators.

During their 27 years of service, the jets suffered dozens of tyre blowouts or wheel damage that in several cases pierced the fuel tanks -- a flaw that Perrier's team and the French civil aviation were accused of missing.

The mammoth trial has drawn on testimony from dozens of witnesses and experts, examining 90 volumes of case files and 534 pieces of evidence, at a cost of three million euros (4.2 million dollars).

Most of the families of the people who died in the crash agreed not to take legal action in exchange for compensation from Air France, the EADS aerospace firm, Continental and Goodyear tyre maker.

The Concorde made its maiden commercial flight in 1976. Only 20 were made, six for development and the remaining 14 for flying mainly trans-Atlantic routes at speeds of up to 1,350 miles (2,170 kilometres) an hour.

Air France and British Airways grounded their Concordes for 15 months after the crash and, after a brief resumption, finally ended the supersonic commercial service in 2003.

© 2010 AFP

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