French Court Drops Investigation into two Aviation Officials in Concorde Probe

VERSAILLES, France_An appeals court on Friday dropped investigations into two former officials of France's civil aviation authority as part of a probe into the 2000 crash of a Concorde jet outside Paris that killed 113 people.

Xavier Champion and Laurent Thillaye du Boullay had been placed under investigation - one step short of formal charges - in October for manslaughter and involuntarily causing injury.

Investigating judge Christophe Regnard is examining to what extent company executives and officials at the DGAC civil aviation authority were aware of the plane's structural problems.

The judges in Versailles, in filed court papers, ruled that Thillaye de Boullay, who headed the authority's technical control department from 1974 to 1984, had ordered changes that "could have seemed sufficient" to fix the structural issues.

As for Champion, the court said he did not have a decision-making role, and would not have been in a position to implement the needed structural changes.

Another authority official, Claude Frantzen, remains under investigation, as do two former engineers from Aerospatiale, the company that built the supersonic jet and is now part of European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co.

Following the Versailles court's ruling, the case now moves onto the Cour de Cassation, France's highest court. Thillaye du Boullaye and Champion are expected to be called as witnesses.

The Air France Concorde crashed shortly after takeoff from Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport on July 25, 2000, killing all 109 people on board - mostly German tourists - and four on the ground.

Two French investigations concluded that a titanium strip left on the runway by a Continental Airlines DC-10 was to blame for the July 25, 2000, crash. The U.S. carrier is also under investigation.

The metal strip had caused a Concorde tire to burst, which sent debris flying that punctured the jet's fuel tanks.