Continental Executive Goes Under Questioning in Concorde Crash

PONTOISE, France (AP) -- A Continental Airlines executive went before an investigating judge on Tuesday for questioning in the probe of the July 2000 crash of the supersonic Concorde.

Ken Burt, a Continental vice president, refused any comment before entering the prosecutor's office in Pontoise - the region covering Gonesse, north of Paris, where the accident occurred. Burt was accompanied by his lawyer, Olivier Metzner, who also refused comment.

The prosecutor's office opened an investigation for manslaughter after the crash and has centered its probe on Continental. The company could be placed under investigation - a step short of being charged - as early as Thursday, judicial officials said.

The airline has said it does not believe it had responsibility in causing the crash.

Experts concluded that a titanium ''wear strip'' that fell from a Continental DC-10 ahead of the crash had a direct role in the accident that killed all 109 people on board the Concorde and four on the ground.

The Concorde exploded in flames two minutes after takeoff from Charles de Gaulle airport on July 25, 2000, and slammed into a hotel. The accident spelled an end to the career of the sleek but costly supersonic aircraft.

The judicial report, made public Dec. 14, came to the same conclusions as accident investigators - that the metal strip caused a Concorde tire to burst, propelling rubber debris that perforated the supersonic plane's fuel tanks.

The prosecutor's office contends that Continental violated U.S. Federal Aviation Administration rules by using titanium in a part of the plane that normally called for use of aluminum. Titanium, which is far harder than aluminum, made the accident more likely, they said.

However, the judicial report also cited weaknesses in ''the training and preparation of the Concorde teams,'' and insufficient protection of the supersonic jet's tanks.

Experts pointed to 67 cases of tire or wheel ruptures which in 24 cases ''provoked one or more impacts on the structure,'' the report said. It added that in seven of the incidents ''the fuel tanks were pierced with one or more holes.''

''According to the experts, the number and seriousness of damages caused by bursting tires of the Concorde's main landing gear to the engines as well as the structure are beyond the norm in the 24 years of the aircraft's use,'' a statement by the prosecutor's office said in December.

Investigating Judge Christophe Regnard is to meet on Thursday with a legal representative of the Continental Airlines, said French judicial officials who spoke on condition they not be named. That representative would replace Continental CEO and chairman Larry Kellner.

Kellner took the top job at Continental in late December, replacing Gordon Bethune, originally set to be summoned.

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