By the Financial Times

Continental Airlines and a mechanic at the airline were found guilty in a French court of involuntary manslaughter on Monday for their role in the 2000 Air France Concorde crash that killed 113 people grounded the supersonic airliner for good.

A French court led by Judge Dominique Andreassier cleared three French aviation officials - Henri Perrier, Claude Frantzen and Jacques Herubel - of wrongdoing in the crash of a Concorde jet outside Paris 10 years ago. Andreassier is still reading the verdict in the case and hasn't issued a final judgment

The Air France flight crashed shortly after take-off from Paris's Charles de Gaulle-Roissy airport, plunging into a hotel and killing all 100 of its mostly German passengers, the flight crew and four people on the ground.

Crash investigators found that just before leaving the runway, the Concorde hit a titanium strip that had fallen off a Continental DC-10 jet minutes before.

The strip burst one of the tyres and the debris punched a hole in the aircraft's wing fuel tank, which subsequently caught fire, and led to loss of control of the aircraft.

Henri Perrier, 81, who was head of the Concorde programme from 1978 to 1994, is accused of ignoring several warnings over weaknesses in the fuel tanks after a number of incidents involving burst tyres.

Air France paid out millions in compensation to the families of the victims and is pursuing Continental for negligence in a civil suit, which has been suspended pending the verdict of the criminal trial on Monday.

Prosecutors in the criminal case, who argue that proper maintenance procedures were not followed in applying the titanium strip, have called for a €175,000 ($275,000) fine for the US airline, and suspended prison sentences for three of the five individuals involved.

Continental had argued that the Concorde's undercarriage was on fire some 700m before it hit the titanium strip. This version of events has been rejected by civil and judicial investigators.

Concorde flights were suspended for 16 months after the crash and only resumed after extensive modifications to the fuel tanks. Air France and British Airways, the only two operators of the supersonic aircraft, grounded it for good in 2003.
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