French Court Finds Continental Guilty in Concorde Crash

 - December 6, 2010, 11:12 AM

A French court found Continental Airlines and one of its mechanics guilty of manslaughter for their roles in the crash of an Air France Concorde SST shortly after takeoff from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport on July 25, 2000. Judge Dominique Andreassier ordered Continental to pay a €200,000 ($268,000) fine and €1 million ($1.34 million) in damages to Air France.

Olivier Metzner, Continental’s French lawyer, denounced the verdict as one that “only protects French interests.” In a statement, Continental called the ruling “absurd” and said it will appeal. Air France expressed satisfaction that the verdict “recognizes Continental Airlines’ civil and criminal responsibility” and intends to proceed with a case for damages in the commercial court.

Crash investigators found that just before leaving the runway, the Concorde hit a titanium wear strip that had fallen off a Continental McDonnell Douglas DC-10 minutes before. The strip burst one of the Concorde’s tires and the debris punched a hole in a wing fuel tank that subsequently caught fire, leading to loss of control of the aircraft. The SST crashed on a hotel just outside Paris, killing all 109 passengers and flight crew and four people on the ground.

John Taylor, the mechanic accused of welding the unapproved strip of titanium on the DC-10 two weeks previously, received a 15-month suspended prison sentence and a €2,000 ($2,682) fine.

The court cleared three French aviation officials of any wrongdoing. But it found EADS civilly responsible in part for the accident after concluding that Concorde developer Aerospatiale–since absorbed by the European consortium–had ignored warnings over burst tires and potential consequences for weaknesses in its fuel tank. It ordered EADS to pay 30 percent of the damages.