Monday, December 6, 2010
Paris, France (CNN) -- The fiery crash that brought down a Concorde supersonic jet in 2000, killing 113 people, was caused partially by the criminal negligence of Continental Airlines and a mechanic who works for the company, a French court ruled Monday.
Continental Airlines was fined 202,000 euros ($268,400) and ordered to pay 1 million euros to Air France, which operated the doomed flight.
Mechanic John Taylor received a fine of 2,000 euros ($2,656) and a 15-month suspended prison sentence for involuntary manslaughter.
The aircraft manufacturer EADS was also found partly responsible for the crash and ordered to pay 30% of damages to victims involved in the case.
Air France has already paid an unspecified sum in damages to the families of most of the victims of the only crash ever of a Concorde.
Concorde crash verdict Concorde crash anniversary
The mechanic was the only person found guilty in the trial before a judicial panel in the Paris suburb of Pontoise. He was not present for the verdict.
His former supervisor, Stanley Ford, and three French officials were found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
Henri Perrier, Jacques Herubel and Claude Frantzen were responsible for the design, testing and certification of the Concorde.
The charges had said the engineers could have acted much earlier to correct well-known design flaws in the plane.
Lawyers for Continental and Taylor rejected the guilty verdicts.
"I am shocked by this verdict, Taylor's lawyer Francois Esclatine said. "I haven't had a chance to speak with my client yet, but I will tell him that he should appeal."
Olivier Metzner, a lawyer for Continental, said the airline "will not let itself be pushed around in this way and we will definitely appeal."
The airline called the verdict "absurd" in a statement.
Saying that the airline and Taylor were "the sole guilty parties shows the determination of the French authorities to shift attention and blame away from Air France," which operated the flight and maintained the aircraft, Continental said.
"To find that any crime was committed in this tragic accident is not supported either by the evidence at trial or by aviation authorities and experts around the world," the statement said.
Air France, which was a plaintiff in the Concorde trial, posted a statement on its website saying, the French national carrier "welcomed the decision of the criminal court which recognizes Continental's full criminal and civil liability in the Concorde accident."
The Concorde burst into flames and smashed into a hotel on takeoff on July 25, 2000. Air France stopped flying the supersonic jets in 2003.
A Continental Airlines plane that took off shortly before the doomed flight was found to have played a key role in the crash.
A titanium strip allegedly fell off a Continental DC-10 which took off just before the Concorde. Judicial investigators say the strip was improperly installed on the DC-10 engine, prompting the charges against the airline, Ford and Taylor.
A lawyer for the American airline had argued that Concorde's problems were apparent decades before the crash and that Continental was not to blame.
An investigation revealed a tragic chain of events that brought down Air France Flight 4590 shortly after takeoff from Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport: a tire under the left wing blew on takeoff when it struck the small strip of titanium on the runway.
The blown tire sent debris into the wing, causing the fuel tank to rupture and sparking the catastrophic fire that led to the crash that killed 100 passengers, nine crew and four people on the ground.
Posted by Steve Douglass at 1:42 PM
(CNN) -- WikiLeaks has published a secret U.S. diplomatic cable listing locations abroad that the U.S. considers vital to its national security, prompting criticism that the website is inviting terrorist attacks on American interests.
The list is part of a lengthy cable the State Department sent in February 2009 to its posts around the world. The cable asked American diplomats to identify key resources, facilities and installations outside the United States "whose loss could critically impact the public health, economic security, and/or national and homeland security of the United States."
The diplomats identified dozens of places on every continent, including mines, manufacturing complexes, ports and research establishments. CNN is not publishing specific details from the list, which refers to pipelines and undersea telecommunications cables as well as the location of minerals or chemicals critical to U.S. industry.
The list also mentions dams close to the U.S. border and a telecommunications hub whose destruction might seriously disrupt global communications. Diplomats also identified sites of strategic importance for supplying U.S. forces and interests abroad, such as in the Strait of Hormuz, the Persian Gulf and the Panama Canal.
The cable is classified secret and not for review by non-U.S. personnel.
The United States and Great Britain condemned the disclosure.
"There are strong and valid reasons information is classified, including critical infrastructure and key resources that are vital to the national and economic security of any country," U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told The Times newspaper in London.
Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, "may be directing his efforts at the United States but he is placing the interests of many countries and regions at risk," the paper quoted Crowley as saying. "This is irresponsible."
British Prime Minister David Cameron said in a statement that the publication is "damaging to national security in the United States, Britain and elsewhere."
The list is "a gift to any terrorist (group) trying to work out what are the ways in which it can damage the United States," said Malcolm Rifkind, chairman of the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee in Britain.
"It is grossly improper and irresponsible" for Assange and his website to publish that information, he said.
Posted by Steve Douglass at 9:34 AM
NASA managers have targeted space shuttle Discovery's launch for no earlier than Feb. 3 at 1:34 a.m. EST. Shuttle managers determined more tests and analysis are needed before proceeding with the launch of the STS-133 mission to the International Space Station.
The Program Requirements Control Board met Dec. 2 and reviewed engineering evaluations associated with cracks on two 21-foot-long, U-shaped aluminum brackets, called stringers, on the shuttle's external tank. NASA repaired the cracks and reapplied foam to the exterior of the stringers. Managers decided the analysis and tests required to launch Discovery safely are not complete. They are planning to conduct an instrumented test on the external fuel tank and structural evaluations on stringer test articles to determine whether the analysis is correct. Details and timelines for the tanking test are in work, but plans call for temperature and strain gauge measurements in the intertank region near the top of the tank during the test.
NASA will review and analyze the data from the tests before setting a launch date. Because of Discovery's delayed launch, the earliest opportunity for the liftoff of the final scheduled shuttle mission, STS-134 on Endeavour, is April 1.
Today at NASA's Johnson Space Center, the STS-133 crew is conducting an integrated entry simulation today in the motion base simulator and will review spacewalking procedures.
Posted by Steve Douglass at 8:43 AM
(CNN) -- "Terrorist funding emanating from Saudi Arabia remains a serious concern." So states a cable prepared for the visit of U.S. Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke to the kingdom earlier this year.
It is one of several that have appeared on the WikiLeaks site to indicate that despite some progress, the flow of cash to extremist groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan from individuals and charities in the Gulf has certainly not been halted.
The cable, written by U.S. Ambassador James B Smith, says that the Saudis are "cooperating more actively than at any previous point to respond to terrorist financing concerns raised by the United States, and to investigate and detain financial facilitators of concern."
It says the Saudi Ministry of Interior had begun to detain individuals involved in funding networks for groups such as Lashkar e-Tayyiba (LeT), an extremist Pakistani group that carried out the Mumbai attacks in 2008, the Taliban, and Hamas.
But it says donors in Saudi Arabia "continue to constitute a source of funding to Sunni extremist groups worldwide, especially during the Hajj and Ramadan." And it adds the kingdom remains "almost completely dependent on the CIA to provide analytic support and direction for its counterterrorism operations."
Fareed's Take: What WikiLeaks tells us Karzai, Gilani downplay WikiLeaks Bank's WikiLeaks worries
The U.S. Treasury has led efforts to block sources of terrorist funding, establishing the "Illicit Finance Task Force" and sending specialists to Kabul, Afghanistan, and elsewhere to help follow the money. It also established an office in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 2008. Treasury sources said earlier this year that other Gulf states had been less co-operative than the Saudis; and other cables obtained by WikiLeaks describe hundreds of millions of dollars in cash being flown from Kabul to various destinations in the region.
The Saudi authorities have made some high-profile arrests in the last two years. Ambassador Smith's cable says the Ministry of the Interior timed its announcement in August 2009 regarding the arrest of 44 terrorist supporters "to deter potential donors from giving money to suspected terrorist groups during Ramadan."
However, one leaked cable sent by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in December 2009 noted that "it has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority." It adds: "Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide" -- running into millions of dollars.
"Riyadh has taken only limited action to disrupt fundraising for the UN 1267-listed Taliban and LeT-groups that are also aligned with al-Qaeda," the cable from Clinton says. It also expresses concern that the Taliban might use the cover of reconciliation talks to raise funds. U.N. Security Council resolution 1267 lists groups and individuals accused of involvement with al Qaeda, the Taliban and other extremist groups.
Posted by Steve Douglass at 6:14 AM