French appeals trial opens over Concorde crash

March 8, 2012 - 1:56 PM
France Concorde Crash

A general view of the court room at the courthouse in Versailles, west of Paris, Thursday, March 8, 2012. Continental Airlines, French officials and mechanics are going back on trial over the 2000 crash of a Concorde supersonic jet, which killed 113 people. A faulty metal strip on a Continental DC-10 fell onto the runway, puncturing the Concorde's tire, sending bits of rubber into the fuel tanks and starting the fire that brought down the plane and sent it crashing into a hotel outside Paris. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

VERSAILLES, France (AP) — Continental Airlines, several mechanics and a former French official went back on trial in France Thursday over the deadly 2000 crash of a Concorde supersonic jet.

With one of the defendants too ill to attend the trial, a judge overrode efforts to delay the proceedings and decided to split the case in two. Continental and three defendants will be tried now, while two other defendants will be tried separately.

The Concorde accident killed 113 people when the supersonic aircraft, a symbol of luxury and high technology for decades, crashed into a hotel outside Paris. The accident was caused by a faulty metal strip on a Continental DC-10 falling on to the runway, puncturing the Concorde's tire, sending bits of rubber into its fuel tanks and starting the fire that brought the plane down, an investigation found.

After years of investigation and a two-month trial, a court outside Paris convicted Continental and one of its mechanics in Texas of manslaughter in 2010. Four other defendants were acquitted.

Both mechanic John Taylor and Continental appealed and demanded a second trial, with the new proceedings opening in Versailles on Thursday. Lawyers for 83-year-old Henri Perrier, longtime director of France's Concorde program, argued for a delay, saying he is undergoing medical treatment.

"He is really the only one that knows the Concorde, without him the proceedings will be curtailed," said lawyer Christian Buffiat.

The court decided that Perrier and Jacques Herubel, who worked for Perrier as chief engineer for the Concorde, will be tried separately. They were both acquitted in the original trial.

In the original trial, Continental's lawyer, Olivier Metzner, accused the French court of issuing a "patriotic" verdict that punished an American company but acquitted French officials accused of ignoring design flaws in the Concorde.

A lawyer for Air France, Fernand Garnault, dismissed claims by Continental that the accident could have been caused by a Concorde maintenance problem that Air France, which operated the supersonic jet jointly with British Airways, is responsible for.

"It's clear from the files that it's the metal strip that came from the Continental plane that's at the origin of the accident," he said.

The crash marked the beginning of the jet's demise, and it was taken out of service in 2003.

The trial is set to continue through May 9.