PARIS – A French judge ordered Continental Airlines and five people to stand trial for manslaughter in connection with the horrific crash of a Concorde jet that killed 113 people eight years ago in France, a prosecutor said Thursday.
Two of the people to be tried are employees of the U.S. carrier, the prosecutor in the Paris suburb of Pontoise said in a statement.
Two others were employed by Aerospatiale, the maker of Concorde and the precursor of plane-maker Airbus. The fifth is an employee of the French civilian aviation authority.
"These indictments are outrageous and completely unjustified," Nick Britton, a spokesman for Continental, told the International Herald Tribune. " Continental remains firmly convinced that neither it nor its employees were the cause of the Concorde tragedy and we will defend ourselves vigorously against these charges."
The Air France Concorde crashed shortly after takeoff from Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport in July 2000, killing all 109 people on board and four on the ground when it slammed into a hotel. The crash was Concorde's only fatal accident before the airliner was taken out of service in 2003.
French investigators blamed a titanium strip on the runway from a Continental Airlines DC-10, which took off just before the luxury jet.
The metal strip caused one of the Concorde's tires to burst, which sent debris flying into its fuel tanks. The French judicial inquiry also determined the tanks lacked sufficient protection from shock — and that Concorde's makers had been aware of the problem since 1979.
The two Continental employees, both U.S. citizens, are John Taylor, a mechanic who allegedly fitted the non-standard strip, and the airline's chief of maintenance Stanley Ford, Agence France-Presse reported.
Former Concorde officials Henri Perrier, 79, and Jacques Herubel, 73, are accused of knowing about problems with the jets and failing to detect and fix them, AFP reported.
Claude Frantzen, 71, director of technical services at the civil aviation authority DGAC from 1970 to 1994, was also ordered to stand trial.
It was not immediately clear when the trial might begin.
The prosecutor said one of the Continental employees had built and installed the metal strip "without respecting the instructions then in effect." His supervisor must stand trial for validating the replacement, the statement said.
Aerospatiale employees and the civil aviation official ignored a host of problems, including "neglecting the risk of fires" on the supersonic jet, the prosecutor said. The statement did not name the employees.
The French order comes at a bad time for the aviation industry.
Continental is cutting 3,000 jobs and grounding 67 jets to offset record fuel costs. The price for a barrel of oil neared $146 for the first time ever on Thursday.
Almost all American carriers have announced major cutbacks.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.