French Concorde trial closes

Paris/Pontoise, May 28 (DPA) A court trial resulting from the July 2000 crash of an Air France Concorde aircraft came to an end Friday in France, with a verdict expected in December.

The American airline Continental and five people face charges of manslaughter in connection with the crash, which killed 113 people.

The four-month long trial ended in the suburb of Pontoise with the defence for Continental presenting its side one last time.

Prosecutors have charged that the company and two of its employees were partly to blame for the crash, which saw the burning plane plummet to the ground, setting fire to a hotel.

Most of the dead were Germans who were planning to board a cruise ship in New York.

The prosecution has called for Continental to be handed a 175,000-euro fine and two of its mechanics to get a suspended 18-month jail sentence on probation.

It has also sought a two-year suspended sentence for the former head of the Concorde program, Henri Perrier, who is now 80 years old. He knew of the plane’s weaknesses, prosecutors have said.

Another top-level manager at Aerospatiale, the Concorde’s French manufacturer, and a former official with the French Civil Aviation Authority were also charged.

Prosecutors argued that the plane rolled over a strip of titanium metal that had fallen off a Continental aircraft just before takeoff, bursting a tyre.

Fragments of the tyre were then sent hurling into one of the fuel tanks, causing a fuel leak, a fire and the failure of the plane’s two port-side engines.

But Continental’s defence argued that the Concorde was already on fire when it rolled over the metal strip, which had been negligently fastened to a Continental DC-10.

The accident ultimately took another victim, the plane itself.

Only 14 Concordes entered commercial service, able to accelerate from 0 to 400 km per hour in 30 seconds and with a cruising speed of twice the speed of sound. They needed just 3 1/2 hours to fly from Europe to New York.

Grounded for nearly a year after the accident, the Concorde took to the air again only to be shelved for good in 2003 because it had become financially untenable for Air France and British Airways, the only two carriers that flew it.

For most of the relatives left behind after the crash, the outcome of the trial will have little significance.

Some 700 family members of the victims on AF 4590 settled with Air France and its insurers shortly after the crash, with the compensations estimated to have totalled 173 million euros.