France Concorde Crash Trial

The US airline Continental and five individuals are set to go on trial in France over the crash of an Air France Concorde jet nearly 10 years ago.

A wing and one engine caught fire as the supersonic jet was taking off from Paris Charles De Gaulle airport in July 2000.

Flight 4590 struck a hotel killing four people as well as all 109 on board.

Continental will deny that a metal strip that allegedly earlier fell from one of its planes caused the crash.

The iconic Concorde plane was moving too fast along the runway to stop after one of its four engines and a wing caught fire, so its pilots were forced to lift off, only to crash two minutes later in the town of Gonesse.

Most of the passengers were German tourists heading to New York to join a luxury cruise to the Caribbean. Nine French crew members also died.

Leaking fuel

The entire fleet of Concordes was grounded until an inquiry established that one of the plane’s tyres had burst, causing debris to shoot out and rupture the jet’s fuel tank.

Leaking kerosene then ignited and caused the catastrophe.

After nearly a year and a half out of service, in November 2001, the jets took to the air once more with new re-enforced fuel tanks, but inquiries continued.

In December 2004 a judicial investigation into the disaster concluded that a piece of metal left on the runway by another aircraft had caused the Concorde’s tyre to shred and burst.

Investigators said the titanium metal strip had fallen from the engine casing of a Continental Airlines DC-10 that took off a short time before.

The airline is now facing prosecution after a French public prosecutor asked judges in March 2008 to bring manslaughter charges.

Continental Airlines is denying responsibility and says the Concorde was stricken well before it hit the 17-inch (43cm) piece of metal.

It maintains that the disaster happened because the jet was unfit to fly.

This is denied by Air France, which is not facing charges in the forthcoming manslaughter trial.

‘Catastrophic mishap’

In addition to Continental Airlines, five individuals are being prosecuted.

They include John Taylor, the Continental mechanic who allegedly fitted the metal strip to the DC-10, and Stanley Ford, a maintenance official from the airline.

Also facing charges are Concorde’s former chief engineer Jacques Herubel, and Henri Perrier, a former head of the Concorde division at Aerospatiale (now part of the aerospace company EADS).

Mr Perrier was placed under investigation in 2005 after being accused of being told about faults with the jet but doing nothing about them.

In 2001 he said: “Nothing we knew would ever have led us to believe such a catastrophe could happen. This was a catastrophic mishap.”

Claude Frantzen, a former member of France’s civil aviation watchdog, is the fifth individual defendant.

Only some of the victims’ families will be represented at the hearings, as many took compensation from Air France after the crash in return for not taking legal action.

The trial, in Pontoise, near Paris, has been scheduled to last 53 days, though due to the varying numbers of days the court will sit each week the proceedings are not expected to finish until the end of May.

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