Russia detains four more suspects in Total crash probe

23rd October 2014, Comments 0 comments

Russian investigators detained four more staff members Thursday at the Moscow airport where the CEO of French oil giant Total died when his plane collided with a snow plough.

Those detained include an intern air traffic controller, her supervisor, who was in charge of flights at the time, and the heads of the airport's air traffic controllers and runway cleaners.

Investigators had already detained the driver of the snow plough and a court hearing on Thursday was expected to sanction his arrest.

Investigators named the detained intern as Svetlana Krivsun. Russian media had reported earlier that the controller in charge of Christophe de Margerie's plane was a trainee.

"The investigation suggests that these people did not respect the norms of flight security and ground operations, which led to the tragedy," the powerful Investigative Committee in charge of the probe said.

At the same time the Vnukovo airport announced the resignations of its general director and his deputy "due to the tragic event" after the management was accused of "criminal negligence" by investigators.

Neither of the two airport directors who resigned was detained by investigators, however.

Total on Wednesday named new bosses after an emergency meeting in Paris, bringing back Thierry Desmarest -- who was both chairman and chief executive at Total from 1995 to 2007 -- as chairman of the group.

Philippe Pouyanne, who currently heads the refining and chemicals division, was named as chief executive.

In Moscow, French investigators joined a local team to probe the accident, which Russian experts said was caused by criminal negligence on the part of senior airport officials.

Three crew members were killed along with De Margerie.

Investigators began analysing the jet's black boxes, which record the flight history and conversations in the cockpit.

- 'Lost my bearings' -

Snowplough driver Vladimir Martynenko, accused by investigators of having been drunk on the job, arrived at a Moscow district court on Thursday for a hearing to decide whether to formally arrest him on the request of investigators.

Martynenko told investigators in footage aired on Russian television that he had got lost.

"When I lost my bearings, I myself didn't notice when I drove onto the runway," the 60-year-old said.

"The plane was running up to takeoff and I practically couldn't see it because my equipment was on. There weren't even any lights, nothing."

Interfax news agency reported that he had admitted drinking coffee with a liqueur before taking the wheel of the snowplough and that tests afterwards found a small amount of alcohol in his blood.

"If he remains at liberty, Martyenko can hide from the investigation, put pressure on witnesses and destroy evidence," an investigator said at Thursday's hearing, cited by RIA Novosti news agency.

Members of De Margerie's bereaved family are heading to Moscow to bring home his body to be buried in Normandy in northern France.

However there were no details about when his body would be repatriated.

- 'Great friend of Russia' -

De Margerie had been chief executive of Total since 2007 and spent his entire 40-year career at the group, which employs 100,000 people and posted revenues of 189.5 billion euros ($240 billion) in 2013.

A descendant of a family of diplomats and business leaders, De Margerie was the grandson of Pierre Taittinger, founder of the eponymous champagne and luxury goods dynasty.

Married with three children and highly regarded within the oil industry, he was known for his jolly nature.

Not one to shy from controversy, De Margerie was an outspoken critic of Western sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis.

Even as relations between the West and Russia deteriorated to the worst since the Cold War, the French oil boss had criticised the sanctions, calling them "a dead-end" and urging "constructive dialogue" instead.

Russian President Vladimir Putin described De Margerie as "a true friend of our country, whom we will remember with the greatest warmth".

Vedomosti business daily wrote in an editorial on Thursday that De Margerie was "one of the most active investors of the Russian oil and gas sector" and that his death, caused by "elementary" management failures was emblematic of Russia's increasingly dire investment climate.


© 2014 AFP

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