French court begins hearing Concorde crash case appeal
Mar 8, 2012, 20:08 GMT
Paris - Twelve years after a Concorde jet crashed near Paris killing 113 people, a French court on Thursday began reexamining the case to determine who was responsible for the disaster.
Over the next nine weeks, an appeals court in Versailles near Paris will reexamine the evidence against six defendants, four of whom were cleared at the original trial in 2010.
That trial found US airline Continental solely responsible for the accident, after concluding that a piece of metal that fell off a Continental plane at Charles de Gaulle airport triggered the crash.
The official crash investigation found that one of the Concorde's tyres burst after the plane hit the titanium strip during takeoff, causing rubber to fly up and rupture a fuel tank.
The Air France plane burst into flames and crashed in the town of Gonesse outside Paris, killing all 109 passengers and crew as well as four people on the ground.
Most of the victims were German tourists, who were on their way to New York to join a cruise.
The crash signalled the beginning of the end for the Concorde, which had been a symbol of technological superiority and reliability for nearly three decades.
Within three years of the crash, the supersonic plane, which used to fly from London and Paris to New York and Washington in record time, was retired.
The trial court fined Continental Airlines 200,000 euros (265,000 dollars) and ordered it to pay 1 million euros in damages to Air France.
A Continental mechanic was found guilty of manslaughter and given a suspended sentence.
Three French aviation officials, including the former head of the Concorde programme at Aerospatiale, which is now owned by European aerospace group EADS, were cleared of any responsibility.
Continental, which merged with United Airlines in 2010, rejected what it called a 'protectionist' verdict.
Continental's lawyers maintain the Concorde burst into flames before hitting the metal strip.
The appeal is set to run until May 9. The first day of hearings on Thursday was devoted to procedural questions.
The court rejected a request Thursday for the case to be scrapped. It came from a lawyer for one of the accused, Henri Perrier, former head of the Concorde programme at Aerospatiale, who argued that his client, aged 82, was too frail.
The court decided instead that Perrier and another Aerospatiale employee will face separate court proceedings in January 2013. They are accused of having known about the plane's engineering flaw and not having done anything to prevent the accident.
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