Air France sues US airline over Concorde crash

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The American airline Continental is being sued by Air France and a French insurance company for allegedly causing the Concorde crash which killed 113 people in July.

The American airline Continental is being sued by Air France and a French insurance company for allegedly causing the Concorde crash which killed 113 people in July.

Air accident investigators believe that a strip of metal which had fallen from a Continental Airlines DC-10 punctured a tyre during Concorde's take-off, triggering a series of events which led to the aircraft's fuel tanks exploding.

Air France, supported by the airline insurance group Reunion Aerienne, has lodged a writ at a court in Pontoise, in the Val D'Oise region north-west of Paris where the Concorde crashed, killing 109 passengers and crew, and four civilians on the ground.

Continental, which is based in Texas, insists the evidence is inconclusive but it also faces a similar legal suit from relatives of 20 German passengers killed in the disaster. That legal action is expected to be filed in Texas, as damages payments in US courts are frequently high.

Christof Wellens, a lawyer in Mönchengladbach, would not say what level of damages was being sought or when his suit would be lodged. But he said Continental would be "clearly negligent" if it is confirmed the strip of metal came from the Continental jet. An Air France spokeswoman said: "A piece from a Continental airlines plane caused the Concorde accident." Under civil aviation codes, airlines were responsible for damage caused by pieces which fall off their aircraft.

The Air France Concorde, bound for Newark, New Jersey, on a charter flight, caught fire as it accelerated down the runway at Charles de Gaulle airport near Paris. The pilot was unable to abort the take-off and struggled in vain to control the aircraft before it crashed beside a hotel in Gonesse, just north-east of Paris.

Investigators said earlier this month that they believed the metal strip, 16 inches by inch, fell from the cover of the thrust reverser on the right-hand engine of the Continental DC-10. Continental conceded in early September after a visual inspection of the DC-10 that the strip could have come from the aircraft. It has also emerged, however, that the airport authorities failed to maintain their normal runway cleaning schedule and had cancelled an inspection before Concorde left because of a fire drill. Runway 23 had not been checked or cleaned for 12 hours before Concorde took off. The DC-10 took off four minutes before Concorde.

French and British civil aviation authorities grounded all Concordes last month by withdrawing its airworthiness certificate, on the grounds that a burst tyre should not be able to cause such a disaster.

A spokesman for Continental in London said the company was aware litigation was being prepared against it. "At this stage there is no conclusive evidence that Continental is involved in the Concorde crash," he said.

Insurance industry sources said that Reunion Aerienne wanted Continental to compensate Air France and its insurers for the costs involved in the disaster.

In turn, Air France has promised to compensate the victims' families but has yet to name the sums involved.

Comments