Nearly 10 years after the crash of an Air France Concorde supersonic airliner that killed 113 people, the American airline Continental and five people went on trial Tuesday on charges of manslaughter.
In addition to ascertaining responsibility in the accident, the court in the Paris suburb of Pontoise will also decide if the scenario drawn up by French investigators regarding what caused the July 25, 2000, crash is correct.
In 2002, the Office of Investigations and Analysis (BEA) concluded that just before takeoff from Charles de Gaulle Airport, north of Paris, the Concorde rolled over a 43-centimetre-long strip of titanium metal lying on the runway, bursting a tyre.
According to the theory, fragments of the tyre were then sent hurling into one of the fuel tanks, causing a fuel leak, a fire and the failure of the plane's two port-side engines.
Eighty seconds later, trailing a long plume of flames, the Concorde slammed into a hotel in the nearby town of Gonesse and exploded.
The victims included the plane's 100 passengers - 97 of whom were German nationals - its nine crew members and four persons on the ground.
The investigation found that the titanium strip had fallen from a Continental DC-10 that had taken off from Charles de Gaulle just minutes earlier.
But Continental's lawyers say they have some two dozen witnesses who will testify that, contrary to the official report, the fire broke out before the plane rolled over the titanium strip.
They will also claim that Air France had known about problems with the Concorde's tyres and had done nothing to correct them.
In addition to Continental, two of its employees - an American mechanic and his superior - two former top-level managers at Aerospatiale, the Concorde's French manufacturer, and a former official with the French Civil Aviation Authority (DGAC) will be on trial.
If found guilty, Continental faces a maximum fine of 375,000 euros. The individuals could receive sentences of up to five years in prison and fines of up to 75,000 euros.