Concorde Crash Ruling: French Court Overturns Criminal Conviction of Continental Airlines

A French appeals court on Thursday overturned part of a 2010 lower court ruling that had found Continental Airlines criminally liable for the 2000 crash of an Air France Concorde jet that killed 113 people. However, it reaffirmed the civil penalties.

Photo Gallery: The Deadly Paris Concorde Crash Photos
AP / Toshihiko Sato

On Thursday, a French appeals court overturned a 2010 lower court ruling that had found Continental Airlines and a mechanic criminally liable for the 2000 crash of an Air France Concorde jet in Paris that killed 113.

However, the court chose to uphold the original ruling on their civic liability, which will require Continental to pay €1 million ($1.3 million) in damages to Air France, the operator of the now-defunct Concorde program.

The crash, which killed all 109 people on the supersonic jet and four people on the ground, helped hasten the end of the Concorde program in 2003. Most of the people on board were Germans flying to New York, where they were set to embark on a cruise of the Caribbean.

In 2010, a lower French court had found the American airline and John Taylor, a Houston-based mechanic for the airline, guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Taylor had been blamed for fitting the wrong titanium strip onto one of Continental's DC-10s. The court determined that the metal strip fell onto the runway and punctured the Concorde's tire, shooting pieces of rubber into the jet's fuel tank and igniting the fire that brought down the jet. The Concorde crashed into a hotel near Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris about two minutes after takeoff on July 25, 2000.

Defense attorneys had argued that Air France let the plane fly despite known defects in the fuel tank. They have also insisted that the fire on the Concorde had broken out before the plane ran over the metal strip.

In the original lower court ruling, Continental was fined €200,000 and ordered to pay Air France €1 million in damages, while Taylor was given a 15-month suspended sentence.

Continental Airlines, which merged with United Airlines in 2010 to form Chicago-based United Continental Holdings Inc., welcomed the ruling. "We have long maintained that neither Continental nor its employees were responsible for this tragic event and are satisfied that this verdict was overturned," the company said in a statement.

Despite the new ruling, Continental still faces a suit before a commercial tribunal at which Air France is demanding €15 million.

-- mbw, with wire reports

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