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French court overturns Continental's conviction in Concorde crash

In this July 25, 2000 file photo, Air France Concorde flight 4590 takes off from Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris with fire trailing from the engine on its left wing. The subsequent crash killed 113 people.

Toshihiko Sato/AP

A French appeals court on Thursday absolved Continental Airlines of blame for a 2000 Concorde crash that killed 113 people and cleared a mechanic at the U.S. airline of the charge of involuntary manslaughter.

The verdict comes over a decade after the accident helped to spell the end of the supersonic airliner. A previous court ruled that a small metal strip that fell onto the runway from a Continental aircraft just before the Concorde took off from Paris caused the crash.

Continental was originally fined €200,000 and ordered to pay the Concorde's operator, Air France, €1-million in damages. Continental appealed the verdict which it described as unfair and absurd.

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Welder John Taylor was cleared of a 15-month suspended prison sentence for having gone against industry norms and used titanium to forge the piece that dropped off the plane.

Continental, now part of United Continental Holdings Inc., had been ordered under the original ruling to pay 70 per cent of any damages payable to families of victims. Airbus parent EADS NV would have to pay the other 30 per cent.

The crash sped up the demise of the droop-nosed Concorde – the fastest commercial airliner in history and a symbol of Franco-British co-operation – as safety concerns coupled with an economic downturn after 9/11 drove away its wealthy customers.

The Air France Concorde, carrying mostly German tourists bound for a Caribbean cruise, was taking off from Paris on July 25, 2000 when an engine caught fire. Trailing a plume of flames, it crashed into a hotel near Charles de Gaulle airport. All 109 passengers and four people on the ground died.

After modifications, the plane returned to service but its operators, Air France and British Airways, retired it in 2003, citing high operating costs and a drop in demand.

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