Concorde Crash Trial: France Tries Americans for Manslaughter in Fiery Crash That Killed 113

(AP Photo/Toshihiko Sato)
PONTOISE, France (CBS/AP) Ten years after 113 people died in a fiery crash of Air France's supersonic Concorde jet, a French court is putting Continental Airlines and two of its employees on trial for manslaughter.

Photo: France Concorde flight 4590 takes off with fire trailing from its engine on the left wing from Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris on July 25, 2000.

Two Air France employees and a French civil aviation worker will also be tried.

The trial in Pontoise, north of Paris, could last four months as the court debates responsibility for the July 25, 2000 crash of the jet, which plunged into a hotel minutes after takeoff from Charles de Gaulle airport. The crash killed 109 people on the plane, mostly German tourists, and four people on the ground.

Photo: The crash site in Gonesse, France July 25, 2000.

Compensation is not a major issue in the trial. Most of the victims' families received settlements long ago.

Continental was not operating the jet, but investigators have long said the crash was triggered by a metal strip lying on the runway that had fallen from a Continental DC-10 minutes before.

Continental's lawyers will argue that the Concorde caught fire before it reached the debris and say the American company was just a convenient scapegoat.

Interest in the trial is so high that the courtroom has been expanded with makeshift walls.

The prosecution also accuses French officials of neglecting to fix known design weaknesses in the jet. The Concorde, capable of flying at twice the speed of sound, was the pride of commercial aviation - though never a financial success - before both Air France and British Airways retired it in 2003.

The men facing manslaughter charges are: Continental mechanic John Taylor, 41, accused of violating guidelines by replacing the DC-10's wear strip with the wrong material; Continental maintenance chief Stanley Ford, 70, accused of validating the strip's installation; Henri Perrier, 80, ex-chief of the Concorde program at plane maker Aerospatiale – the precursor to Airbus; Jacques Herubel, 74, a top Aerospatiale engineer at Concorde; and Frantzen, 72, who handled the Concorde program at the French civil aviation authority.

Manslaughter charges can carry penalties of up to five years in prison and a $104,000 fine, but observers say suspended prison sentences are more likely in this case.