Airline Execs Ordered To Appear In Paris Courtroom
Like a deer in the headlights, Continental Airlines was caught
by surprise after a French court of inquiry this week summoned its
executives for questioning in the wake of the fiery 2000 Concorde
crash at Charles DeGaulle Airport.
It wasn't like the Continental brass had been charged with a
crime -- it was just one step shy of that.
"Several executives from the company have been summoned to see
the investigating judge to be questioned over the incident," a
legal source in Paris told the news agency AFP, confirming a report
in the newspaper Le Parisien.
An official inquiry into the July 25, 2000, accident showed a
piece of titanium fell off a Continental DC-10 as it departed
Charles De Gaulle Airport five minutes before the Air France
Concorde began its take-off roll. As the Concorde rolled over the
metal strip, its tires shredded. The debris punctured a fuel tank
and was ingested by the Concorde's engines, according to the
inquiry. All 109 passengers and crew aboard the Concorde were
killed in the fiery crash, as were four people on the ground.
Wear-Strip: Smoking Gun?
The titanium was a replacement "wear-strip" which apparently
fell from the DC-10's engine nacelle. The bone of contention is
that the metal strip found to have initiated the Concorde accident
was made of titanium rather than aluminum -- the metal used by
McDonnell-Douglas in the factory part. The French contend that an
aluminum strip, made of softer metal, would not have cut up the
Concorde tires in the first place and the whole tragic accident
never would have happened.
"The fact that the strip from the DC-10 was of different
material, titanium, than that originally used, had a direct
incidence in the Concorde's crash," said Judge Christophe
Continental, while admitting the strip may have indeed come from
the DC-10's nacelle, blamed the Concorde accident instead on the
supersonic aircraft's "design flaws."
But in an indication of how this legal battle may be fought,
French lawyer Jean-Francois Carlot, a specialist in industrial
accidents, told AFP that "if Continental Airlines did not respect
the manufacturer's instructions, it could be held responsible."
Continental has not admitted that the composition of the
wear-strip violated any regulations. In fact, the US airline issued
a fiery statement in the wake of the report in Le Parisien.
"We strongly disagree that anything Continental did was the
cause of the Concorde accident, and we are outraged by the media
reports that criminal charges may have been made against our
company and its employees," the airline said.