Trial begins on Concorde crash

PARIS: US airline Continental and French aviation officials go on trial Tuesday for the manslaughter of 113 people who died in Paris when a supersonic Concorde plummeted to the ground in a ball of fire.

The New York-bound jet crashed shortly after take-off from Charles de Gaulle airport on July 25, 2000, killing all 109 people on board -- most of them Germans -- and four hotel workers on the ground.

Two Continental employees, a former French civil aviation official and two Concorde engineers will from Tuesday be tried on the same charge in a court near Paris, with proceedings expected to last four months.

A French accident inquiry concluded in 2004 that the disaster was partly caused by a strip of metal that fell onto the runway from a Continental Airlines DC-10 plane that took off just before the supersonic jet.

It said the Concorde ran over the super-hard titanium strip, which shredded one of its tyres. That caused a blow-out and sent debris flying into an engine and a fuel tank and set it on fire, according to the inquiry.

But Continental has rejected that claim, arguing that the fire began before the plane reached the spot where the metal strip lay and that Concorde suffered from dangerous design defects which were known about but not corrected.

Continental is charged over a failure to properly maintain its aircraft, along with two US employees: John Taylor, a mechanic who allegedly fitted the non-standard strip, and airline chief of maintenance Stanley Ford.

The former Concorde engineers and French aviation boss are accused of failing to detect and set right faults on the supersonic aircraft, brought to light during the investigation and thought to have contributed to the crash.

A French civil aviation official is accused of overlooking a fault on Concorde's distinctive delta-shaped wings, which held its fuel tanks.

Most of the victims' families agreed not to take legal action in exchange for compensation from Air France, EADS, Continental and the Goodyear tyre manufacturer.

A successful prosecution would result in a maximum fine of 375,000 euros for the airline and up to five years in jail and a fine of up to 75,000 euros for the individuals involved.