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 after 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 at a trial into the crash also sought a 175,000-euro (220,000-dollar) fine against Continental Airlines, siding with experts who said the Concorde was brought down by a strip of metal on the runway that had fallen off a Continental jet that took off just before.

The New York-bound Air France Concorde 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 DC-10 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 previous incidents were adequately analyzed by the manufacturer and appropriate measures were taken," said Simon Ndiaye, a lawyer for EADS. "The accident was unforeseeable," he added.

While some modifications were made to the Concorde, prosecutors faulted it for abandoning efforts to strengthen the underside of the wings, which held the fuel tanks.

Continental, which risked a maximum fine of up to 225,000 euros, has maintained the Concorde caught fire before hitting the metal strip from its aircraft.

The mammoth trial, which is due to wrap up next Friday, 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).

A verdict is not expected before the end of the year.

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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