France began criminal case against former head of Concorde program

Five years after a Concorde crashed in flames outside Paris, killing 113 people, France has taken the first step toward prosecuting an official who oversaw the supersonic jets, judicial officials said Tuesday.

Henri Perrier, a former head of the Concorde program, was placed under investigation, a step short of formal charges, for manslaughter and involuntary injury, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because French law bars the disclosure of information from judicial investigations.

Perrier served as chief engineer on the Concorde's first test flight in 1969 and directed the Concorde program in the 1980s and early 1990s. He is the first person targeted in legal action over the crash. He was questioned by officials for nearly 12 hours on Monday and into early Tuesday, according to thу AP.

Investigating judge Christophe Regnard has summoned three other executives from Concorde-maker Aerospatiale, one of whom was to be questioned Wednesday. Aerospatiale is now part of EADS, the European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co.

Three officials from France's civil aviation agency, the DGAC, have been called for questioning next month.

The Air France Concorde crashed on July 25, 2000, shortly after taking off from Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport headed for New York. As it raced off the runway, flames streaked from the jet's left wing. It crashed moments later, killing all 109 people on board and four on the ground.

Two investigations, one by France's accident agency, the other by the prosecutors' office, concluded that a titanium strip left on the runway by a Continental Airlines DC-10 was to blame. The metal strip had caused a Concorde tire to burst, propelling rubber debris that perforated the jet's fuel tanks, located under the wings.

Continental was placed under investigation in March for alleged manslaughter and involuntary injury. French prosecutors contend that the carrier had violated U.S. Federal Aviation Administration rules by using titanium in a part of the plane that normally called for use of aluminum, which is softer.

The French judicial inquiry also determined that the jet's fuel tanks lacked sufficient protection from shock, and that Concorde's makers had been aware of the weakness since 1979.

According to that report, which was made public last year, in the 60 cases of ruptured tires recorded since the Concorde entered service, seven led to a punctured tank. The reinforcement of the tanks only took place after the plane restarted service in November 2001, the report said.


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