A French court on Monday found Continental Airlines and a mechanic at the airline guilty of involuntary manslaughter for their role in the 2000 Concorde crash that spelled the end of the supersonic airliner.
The airline, now United Continental Holdings following a merger, and aerospace group EADS must split 70-30 any damages payable to families of victims of the crash, which killed 113 people, the court ruled.
The verdict exposes Continental and EADS to damages claims that could run to tens of millions of euros. The airline was fined €200,000 [$265,800] by the court and welder John Taylor was given a 15-month suspended prison sentence.
Continental Airlines said it would appeal what it called an “absurd” verdict. Taylor’s lawyer said he would also appeal.
“I do not understand how my client could be considered to have sole responsibility for the Concorde crash,” lawyer Francois Esclatine told French iTele television.
The court said EADS, which now owns the French factories which partly built the Concorde airliners, had some civil liability in the crash, which hastened the end of an era of glamorous supersonic travel between London, Paris and New York.
The Air France Concorde, carrying mostly German tourists bound for a Caribbean cruise, was taking off from Paris on July 25, 2000 when an engine caught fire. Trailing a plume of flames, it crashed into a hotel near Charles de Gaulle airport.
All 109 passengers and four people on the ground died. The court in the town of Pontoise north of Paris blamed maintenance practices for the fact that a small piece of metal dropped off a Continental aircraft that took off just before the Concorde and punctured its tires, sending debris into the Concorde’s fuel tanks and sparking a fatal fire.
The crash hastened the demise of Concorde and its two operators, Air France and British Airways, took the plane out of service in 2003.
EADS referred queries on Monday’s ruling to its lawyer in the case, who was not immediately available for comment.
The court found three French aviation officials not guilty.
(Writing by Catherine Bremer)
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