Heads roll at Moscow Airport over death of Total's de Margerie

Heads roll at Moscow Airport over death of Total's de Margerie

Thursday, October 23, 2014 6:52 pm

Top Russian airport officials fell on their swords Thursday as four more employees were detained over the Moscow plane crash that killed the CEO of French oil giant Total.

The driver of the snowplough that collided with Total boss Christophe de Margerie’s plane as it was taking off from a Moscow airport late Monday was also ordered to be held for two months behind bars for further questioning.

Christophe de Margerie: heads roll in Moscow over death

Christophe de Margerie: heads roll in Moscow over death

The new staff detained for questioning include a trainee air traffic controller who directed the doomed plane, her supervisor, the heads of the air traffic controllers at Vnukovo airport and runway cleaners.

“The investigation suggests that these people did not respect the norms of flight security and ground operations, which led to the tragedy,” said the powerful Investigative Committee in charge of the probe.

Vnukovo airport also said its general director and his deputy had resigned “due to the tragic event” after the management was accused of “criminal negligence” by investigators.

However they have not been detained by investigators.

– Funeral on Monday –

The 63-year-old De Margerie was killed along with three crew members when the plane hit the snowplough as it was taking off shortly before midnight and burst into flames.

He will be buried on Monday in a private funeral in Normandy in northern France, local officials said.

A Moscow court ruled that the 60-year-old snowplough driver, who was held immediately after the crash, be kept detained for two months after investigators said he was drunk at the wheel.

They said Vladimir Martynenko had a blood alcohol content of 0.6 grams of ethanol per litre of blood, compared to the legal limit of zero for driving in Russia.

Interfax news agency reported that he had admitted drinking coffee with a liqueur.

Martynenko, still wearing his work uniform, did not speak at Thursday’s hearing.

But his lawyer Alexander Karabanov said afterwards that Martynenko “does not admit guilt, he admits his involvement”.

– ‘Chance tragedy’ –

Russian investigators, who have been joined by French experts, released details of the final few seconds before the crash after a preliminary probe of air traffic control data and the doomed jet’s black boxes.

Experts from Russia’s Interstate Aviation Committee, MAK, said that the runway had been clear when the Total plane was given clearance to take off.

“After the plane started moving the crew noticed an object identified by them as ‘a car crossing the road’,” official Alexey Morozov told journalists.

“The observation of this object did not cause concern for the crew and the take-off was continued as normal,” he said.

Fourteen seconds later the plane however collided with the snowplough as it took off at a speed of some 250 kilometres (155 miles) per hour, the expert said.

Driver Martynenko had previously told investigators in footage of his questioning shown on television that he “lost my bearings” and didn’t notice he was on the runway.

In Paris on Wednesday, Total named new bosses to replace De Margerie.

The board brought back Thierry Desmarest — who was both chairman and chief executive at Total from 1995 to 2007 — as chairman of the group.

Philippe Pouyanne, who currently heads the refining and chemicals division, was named chief executive.

De Margerie had been chief executive of Total since 2007 and spent his entire 40-year career at the group, which employs 100,000 people and posted revenues of 189.5 billion euros ($240 billion) in 2013.

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