French court throws out Continental conviction in Concorde crash

by Aviation News Reporter on November 29, 2012

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PARIS — A French appeals court Thursday overturned Continental Airlines’ conviction for manslaughter in the July 2000 crash of a Concorde jet that killed 113 people.

But it upheld a civil judgment that metal from a Continental plane had set off a catastrophic chain of events that let to the tragedy.

The U.S. airline had been ordered in 2010 to pay about $2.6 million in damages and fines after being found guilty of causing the accident. A court ruled that a metal strip from one of Continental’s DC-10 planes had fallen onto the runway at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport and punctured one of the Concorde’s tires, sending fragments of rubber into a fuel tank, which caught fire.

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The stricken plane slammed into a hotel just north of Paris, killing all 109 passengers and crew and four people on the ground. Most of the passengers were German holidaymakers heading to New York to join a Caribbean cruise.

Continental, which since the crash has merged with United Airlines, rejected the ruling of involuntary homicide and argued that the aircraft was already on fire when it ran over the fragment of titanium. It described the verdict as “absurd” and launched an appeal claiming it was being used as a scapegoat to protect the French airline industry.

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On Thursday, an appeals court in the city of Versailles overturned the earlier verdict and cleared the airline of blame for the accident. However, it upheld a previous ruling that the airline bore a civil responsibility for the tragedy.

Appeals court president Michele Luga said she accepted expert statements that the metal from the Continental plane had caused the tragedy, but said this did not warrant criminal charges being brought against the airline. A charge of criminal negligence against one of the airline’s mechanics was also overturned.

The appeals court’s decision clears the way for a separate $19.4-million civil lawsuit being brought by Air France for damage the tragedy caused to its reputation.

The fleet of Concorde supersonic planes, operated jointly by Air France and British Airways, was taken out of service in 2003.

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