A French appeals court has overturned a manslaughter conviction against Continental Airlines for the 2000 crash of a Concorde airliner. The Paris accident sparked the end of the iconic supersonic passenger plane.
The court in Versailles upheld a Continental Airlines appeal against a 2010 ruling where the airline was found guilty of manslaughter for the plane crash. Continental was originally fined 200,000 euros ($260,000) and ordered to pay one million euros in damages to the Concorde jet's operator, Air France.
Despite removing the criminal culpability and manslaughter verdict, the court upheld Continental's payment to Air France, classifying this as civil damages.
The Air France flight 4590 plane crashed near Paris on July 25, 2000.
The previous court had ruled that a small titanium strip fell off a Continental Airlines plane onto the runway at Charles de Gaulle airport, puncturing one of Concorde's tires and ultimately leading to a fire and a loss of power when rubber fragments penetrated a fuel tank on the left wing.
The court also cleared charges against welder John Taylor, who had been handed a 15-month suspended sentence. Taylor fitted the titanium piece to the other aircraft as a temporary repair. Industry norms mandate the use of weaker materials like aluminium or stainless steel - less likely to cause damage if they fall off - for impermanent repairs.
Pilots tried to right the jet
The plane was able to take off despite the damage, with the pilot too far into the launch procedure to pull out. Efforts to salvage the craft and perform an emergency landing failed, the plane crashed into a hotel near the airport moments after takeoff.
The 100 passengers were bound for New York to join a Carribean cruise, 96 of them were German. All nine French crew died in the crash, while four people on the ground were killed in the explosion, taking the total death toll to 113.
Concorde remains one of only two supersonic passenger aircraft ever to have taken to the skies. Air France and British Airways, the primary carriers to use the Franco-British project that first flew in 1976, resumed services after the accident but stopped all Concorde flights in 2003, citing high running costs and falling demand.
msh/hc (AP, dpa, Reuters)