Continental convicted in French Concorde crash

A French court has convicted Continental Airlines Inc. and one of its mechanics of manslaughter in the 2000 crash of an Air France Concorde that killed 113 people — with the airline immediately vowing to appeal.

Houston-based airline vows to appeal 'absurd' conviction and $1.44M fine

A French court has convicted Continental Airlines Inc. and one of its mechanics of manslaughter in the 2000 crash of an Air France Concorde that killed 113 people — with the airline vowing to appeal.

Firefighters spray water on the debris of a crashed Air France Concorde on July 25, 2000. A French court has blamed Continental Airlines and one of its mechanics for the deadly crash. ((Christophe Ena/Associated Press))

On Monday, the court in Paris ordered Continental to pay Air France 1.08 million euros ($1.44 million) for damaging its reputation.

The mechanic, John Taylor, received a 15-month suspended prison sentence and a $2,670 fine, while three former French officials and Taylor's now-retired supervisor, Stanley Ford, were acquitted.

Continental Airlines, which is based in Houston, said it would appeal the convictions.

"While we agree with the court's decision that Stanley Ford was innocent of the charges he faced and we share his relief that his decade-long nightmare is over, we strongly disagree with the court's verdict regarding Continental Airlines and John Taylor, and will of course appeal this absurd finding," said Nick Britton, a spokesman for Continental.

"To find that any crime was committed in this tragic accident is not supported either by the evidence at trial or by aviation authorities and experts around the world," the company said in a statement.

All 109 passengers and crew, and four people on the ground were killed in the accident on July 25, 2000, at Charles de Gaulle Airport near Paris.

Investigators found a Continental DC-10 had dropped a strip of titanium on the runway at the airport on the day of the accident.

According to investigators, the debris later punctured the tire of the Concorde jet, sending flying rubber into the fuel tank and causing a fire before the plane slammed into a hotel.

Taylor was accused of improperly installing the titanium to patch the DC-10. Aviation experts said it is well known that titanium often falls off planes.

Ruling 'protects only the interests of France'

Britton said portraying Taylor and the metal strip as "sole guilty parties" was an effort to divert attention and blame from Air France, "as well as from the French authorities responsible for the Concorde's airworthiness and safety."

He noted that Air France was state-run at the time.

Air France Concorde Flight 4590 takes off with fire trailing from its engine on the left wing at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris on July 25, 2000. ((Toshihiko Sato/Associated Press))

Continental's defence lawyer, Olivier Metzner, denounced the ruling as "patriotic" for sparing the French defendants and convicting only the Americans.

"This is a ruling that protects only the interests of France. This has strayed far from the truth of law and justice," he said. "This has privileged purely national interests."

Roland Rappaport, a lawyer for the family Concorde pilot Christian Marty, who died in the crash, said the verdict was "incomprehensible," and asked why blame was heaped on Continental mechanics when French officials were aware of weaknesses on the Concorde about two decades before the crash.

"This trial made clear that the Concorde, this superb plane, suffered from severe technical insufficiencies, problems with the fuel tanks that were known since '79," said Rappaport, who also represents the national pilots union in other crashes.

Most of the victims in the crash were German tourists, and their families were compensated years ago.

The main goal of the trial was to assign responsibility for the accident.

With files from The Associated Press