PONTOISE, France » A French court convicted Continental Airlines and one of its mechanics in Texas of manslaughter yesterday for setting off a chain of events that sent a supersonic Concorde crashing into a hotel outside Paris a decade ago, killing 113 people and marking the beginning of the sleek jet’s demise.
Both mechanic John Taylor and the airline said they would appeal the long-awaited verdict, which followed 10 years of investigations.
Taylor said the case has "destroyed my life," and his lawyer complained that the little guy was forced to shoulder the blame in a case that involved big names in world aviation.
As the court in the Paris suburb of Pontoise found 42-year-old Taylor and Continental guilty of manslaughter, it ordered a 15-month suspended sentence for the mechanic and about $2.7 million in damages and fines for him and the company.
Continental’s lawyer, Olivier Metzner, accused the French court of issuing a "patriotic" verdict that punished an American company but acquitted French officials accused of ignoring design flaws in the Concorde, a jet that could fly at twice the speed of sound and was the pride of European aviation.
The court confirmed investigators’ long-standing belief that Taylor fitted a faulty metal strip on a Continental DC-10 weeks before the July 25, 2000, crash — a strip that eventually tumbled onto the runway at Charles de Gaulle and punctured an Air France Concorde’s tire, sending bits of rubber hurtling into the fuel tanks and starting a fire.
The plane then slammed into a nearby hotel, killing all 109 people aboard and four others on the ground. Most of the victims were Germans heading to a cruise in the Caribbean.
The crash marked the beginning of the end for the Concorde, which was a commercial dud despite its glamour and which was retired in 2003 by its only two carriers, Air France and British Airways.
All other defendants in the case — including three former French officials and Taylor’s now-retired supervisor Stanley Ford — were acquitted.
In a telephone interview from his home in Montgomery, Texas, yesterday, Taylor said he did not think he installed the wear strip in question. He also said that the case caused him "mental anguish" and "destroyed my life."
"I’ve been nothing but wronged since this started," said Taylor, who marked 20 years of employment with Continental in August.
Taylor, a Danish citizen who is a permanent U.S. resident, said the case has prevented him from gaining citizenship in the United States, where he has lived since age 3.