Concorde crash probe takes 10 years to reach questionable verdict

Sunday, December 30th, 2012 By

air france concorde

A decade after the Air France Concorde crash, a French court found Continental Airlines guilty of leaving a scrap of metal on the runway. Image llee_wu/Flickr

An Air France Concorde supersonic airliner burst into flames and crashed just after takeoff from from Charles De Gaulle airport near Paris on July 25, 2000. The cause of the Concorde crash was determined to be a strip of metal dropped onto the runway from a Contenental Airlines DC-10 that had taken off in front of the doomed jet. Monday, a French court ruled that Continental and one of its mechanics were guilty of criminal negligence that caused the Concorde crash.

Why the Concorde crashed

The Concorde crash a decade ago killed all 109 people aboard plus four others on the ground. An official 2004 accident report said a 17-inch long strip of titanium that had fallen off the Continental DC-10 blew out one of the Concorde’s tires. Chunks of rubber punctured a fuel tank in the port wing. As the supersonic plane lifted off, leaking jet fuel ignited, leaving a spectacular trail of flame. The Concorde crashed into a motel about 10 miles north of Paris. Air France paid compensation to the victims’ families in return for agreeing not to sue the airline for the Concorde crash.

The Concorde crash verdict

The Concorde crash trial lasted four months. Continental Air Lines was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, fined 202,000 Euros ($268,400) and ordered to pay Air France $1 million. Concorde manufacturer EADS was also deemed culpable for the crash and ordered to pay 30 percent of damages awarded to victims. The French court prosecuted individuals involved in design, testing and certification of the Concorde for involuntary manslaughter. But only one person, Continental mechanic John Taylor, was found guilty. He was convicted of violating rules prohibiting the use of titanium–a hard metal deemed a puncture risk–and not installing it properly.

Reaction to the Concorde crash trial

Taylor’s culpability in the Concorde crash was punished with a 2,000 Euro ($2,656) fine and 15-month suspended sentence. Continental called the verdict “absurd.” Taylor’s lawyers said they will appeal. The trial was criticized because a French criminal probe, proceeding concurrently with a civil investigation, bogged down the Concorde crash investigation. Taylor’s conviction came a decade after the crash and seven years after the Concorde stopped flying. Legal experts said criminal charges interfered with finding the true cause because people with knowledge about the Concorde crash feared being prosecuted.

Sources

CNN

The Telegraph

Bloomberg

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