Blame disputed as Concorde collide trial opens

PARIS -- Was an abandoned scrap of metal on the runway actually the main culprit in the fiery air crash of an Air France Concorde shortly after takeoff?

That finding, insisted upon by French investigators for a decade, will be scrutinized and debated in a long-awaited trial starting Tuesday. Prosecutors quarrel that the supersonic passenger jet not at all would have crashed in July 2000 - killing 113 - if a Continental Airlines DC-10 hadn't dropped a piece of titanium onto the Charles de Gaulle airport runway just minutes earlier than the Concorde soared into the summer sky.

Continental lawyer Olivier Metzner says the American airline is merely a convenient scapegoat. He will dispute that a fire broke out on the Concorde eight seconds before it even reached the titanium strip, he says.

The case marks the only collide ever of a Concorde, an air accident that brought heartache and disgrace to a nation proud of its aviation marvel, a jet that could fly crossways the Atlantic in half the time of other airliners.

The trial is expected to last four months as the court in Pontoise, north of Paris, tries to pin down who should be held unlawfully responsible for the crash, which killed 109 people on the airplane, mostly German tourists, and four people on the land.

Houston-headquartered Continental Airlines, Inc. and two of its U.S. employees are on test for manslaughter. Both aviation and judicial investigators have said the metal strip on the runway was the primary reason of the accident.

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