A French court yesterday found Continental Airlines and one of its mechanics guilty of involuntary manslaughter for their role in the 2000 Concorde crash that spelled the end of the supersonic airliner.
The airline, now United Continental Holdings following a merger, and aerospace group EADS must split 70 percent-30 percent any damages payable to families of victims of the crash, which killed 113 people, the court ruled.
The verdict exposes Continental and EADS to damages claims that could run to tens of millions of dollars.
The airline was fined 200,000 euros (US$266,000) by the court, and welder John Taylor was given a 15-month suspended prison sentence. The court also ordered Continental to pay Air France SA more than 1 million euros in damages.
Continental said it would appeal what it called an “absurd” verdict. Taylor’s lawyer said he would also appeal.
“I do not understand how my client could be considered to have sole responsibility for the Concorde crash,” lawyer Francois Esclatine told French iTele television.
The court said EADS, which now owns the French factories that partly built the Concordes, had some civil liability in the crash.
The Air France Concorde, carrying mostly German tourists, was taking off from Paris on July 25, 2000, when an engine caught fire. Trailing a plume of flames, it crashed into a hotel near Charles de Gaulle airport.
The court in the town of Pontoise north of Paris blamed maintenance practices for the fact that a small piece of metal dropped off a Continental aircraft that took off just before the Concorde and punctured its tires, sending debris into the Concorde’s fuel tanks and sparking a fatal fire.
The court found three French aviation officials not guilty.
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