Concorde: Judges call in US airline

French prosecutors investigating the manslaughter of the 113 people killed in the Air France Concorde crash four years ago are to summon senior executives of the United States airline Continental.

Judicial experts concluded on Tuesday that the disaster was caused by a titanium strip which fell off a Continental jet and was left lying on the runway of the Charles de Gaulle airport.

The metal strip burst a tyre on the Concorde and sent debris flying into a fuel tank, causing the aircraft to become engulfed by a fireball. The 185-tonne aircraft crashed into a hotel outside the airport 85 seconds after take-off.

Continental Airlines’ chief executive, Gordon Bethune, and chief operating officer, Larry Kellner, are to be called to appear before an investigating judge in March.

Three of its technical staff will be called to appear in February.

The prosecutors allege that Continental was breaking the US federal aviation authority’s safety regulations by using titanium for the “wear strip” on its DC-10 instead of aluminium. Because titanium is harder, it made the accident more likely.

Continental said in a statement on Tuesday: “We strongly disagree that anything Continental did was the cause of the Concorde accident, and we are outraged that media reports have said criminal charges may be made against our company and its employees.

“We are confident that there is no basis for a criminal action and we will defend any charges in the appropriate courts.”

Many of the 109 passengers on the Concorde flight AF4590 to New York were German tourists on the first leg of a Caribbean holiday.

The families of some of the victims have opted to seek financial recompense from Continental Airlines, despite a $120-million compensation package offered by Air France in 2001.

Flames trailed for 60m from the aircraft when its fuel tank burst.
Everybody on board died and there were four victims on the ground.

The French judicial report was critical of the Corcorde’s design, pointing to insufficient protection of its fuel tanks and weaknesses in the “training and preparation of the Concorde teams”.

Sales of Concorde tickets never recovered from the crash.

British Airways and Air France grounded their supersonic fleets last year, bringing the Anglo-French engineering feat’s 35-year history to a close. - Guardian Unlimited Â

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