A French judge has ordered Continental Airlines and five people to stand trial on manslaughter charges in the deadly crash of a Concorde jet in Paris in 2000 that killed 113 people.
French investigators say that a piece of metal that had fallen off a Continental plane onto the runway caused a tire to burst on the Concorde jet, sending debris into the jet's fuel tanks.
The French judicial inquiry also determined the tanks lacked sufficient protection from shock and that Concorde's makers had been aware of the weakness since 1979.
The judge ruled that Continental and two employees who allegedly installed the defective strip — John Taylor and maintenance chief Stanley Ford — be tried for manslaughter charges.
In a statement released Thursday from the office of Marie-Therese de Givry, prosecutor in the Paris suburb of Pontoise, Taylor is alleged to have built and installed the metal strip "without respecting the instructions then in effect" and Ford validated the installation of the strip.
Claude Frantzen, former head of training at the French civil aviation authority, Jacques Herubel, a top Aerospatiale engineer, and Henri Perrier, ex-chief of the Concorde program will also go on trial.
The prosecutor's statement said they are accused of ignoring a host of problems, including "neglecting the risk of fires" on the supersonic jet and that they should have worked to reinforce a part of the aircraft that was vulnerable to projectiles.
The Air France Concorde crashed shortly after takeoff from Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport in July 2000, killing all 109 people aboard — mostly German tourists — and four on the ground.
Disagreement over causes
Continental has long denied responsibility for the crash and rejected the ruling.
"These indictments are outrageous and completely unjustified," said spokeswoman Julie King. "Continental remains firmly convinced that neither it nor its employees were the cause of the Concorde tragedy, and we will defend ourselves vigorously against these charges."
There have been disagreements among some aviation experts over the exact cause of the crash and the role the piece of metal played in the disaster.
Some have attributed the crash to overloading and poor maintenance.
Thierry Dalmasso, lawyer for the former Aerospatiale employees, said the trial would likely take place in 2009. He insisted that the Concorde crash was impossible to predict, and he said the court did not listen to his clients' testimony arguing the case should be dropped.
"No negligence could be proved," he said.