Today a French court of appeals reversed the conviction for criminal manslaughter against the Continental Airlines mechanic involved in the Air France Concorde crash.
That brings the criminal proceedings to a close 12 years after the airliner went down. I wrote here that the proceedings would do nothing for the families. To the extent that the families obtained any compensation at all, it was through the civil system, not the criminal trial.
What the criminal trial did do, however, is forever change the landscape for airline accident investigations, for the worse. Sure, the mechanic was ultimately acquitted. But the ordeal that the mechanic went through will not be soon forgotten by the aviation community worldwide.
The Air France Concorde ran over a strip of metal on the runway at Charles de Gaulle Airport. One of the Concorde’s tires exploded. A chunk of the debris from the tire punctured the Concorde’s fuel tank. Fuel leaked from the tank, and into an engine. The ensuing fire and engine failure brought down the aircraft. 113 people were killed.
The metal strip fell onto the runway from a Continental Airlines DC-10 that had taken off minutes earlier. Had Continental’s mechanic attached it properly, it wouldn’t have fallen off. Continental’s maintenance practices were sloppy. No doubt about that. And the mechanic who was involved was in some fashion responsible for the crash. But not criminally. He shouldn’t have been prosecuted.
Next time an airliner crashes, would anyone blame a mechanic for clamming up, instead of cooperating with the NTSB?