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French team probes Total boss's deadly Moscow crash

© AFP - the wreckage of the Falcon-50 jet

Video by Luke SHRAGO

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-10-22

French investigators have arrived in Moscow following the death of Christophe de Margerie, head of French oil giant Total, in an airport runway crash on Monday night. They will be following a number of lines of enquiry.

The French investigators will be working with a local team to probe the accident, which has shocked France and prompted an outpouring of tributes to the 63-year-old manager, whom Russian President Vladimir Putin described as "a true friend of Russia".

De Margerie, an outspoken critic of Western sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis, was killed when the Falcon-50 jet he was travelling in collided with a snowplough as it was about to take off at Moscow’s Vnukovo International Airport.

According to FRANCE 24’s Moscow correspondent Ksenia Bolchakova, the information relating to what happened on the runway remains “highly contradictory”.

  • Treacherous weather

The accident, which happened just after midnight on Monday night, took place in extremely unpleasant weather conditions with thick cloud cover, fog, the first of the year’s snowfall, and visibility limited to 350 metres.

  • The snowplough

Russian investigators have accused the driver of the snowplough of being drunk on duty and he is currently in custody. According to Bolchakova, the 60-year-old man’s lawyers and family have all denied he was under the influence.

“His lawyer says he is taking medicines for a heart problem and is absolutely forbidden to drink alcohol,” she reported. “This has been confirmed by his family who accuse the authorities of looking for a perfect scapegoat to spare Vnukovo airports a costly trial.

“The driver has told investigators that he was simply following directions given him by air traffic control.”

  • Negligence at the control tower

Investigators have also come down hard on the airport’s air traffic controllers, who have been questioned and also tested for alcohol and substance abuse.

Viktor Gorbachev, head of the Russian “Airport” civil aviation association, blasted the lack of coordination by those running the airport’s operations.

“Why was a vehicle on the runway?” he told Russian radio on Tuesday. “It’s air traffic control’s job to make sure these things don’t happen.

“Every vehicle at the airport is equipped with a walkie-talkie radio, and if the snowplough was on the runway it will have been because the driver was following instructions from the controllers, who will prevent any landing or taking off while that is happening.”

  • Human error

The aircraft’s black boxes will also be closely scrutinized to see if it was the pilot who made the mistake of taxiing to the runway at the wrong time. Investigators said they would wait for the arrival of French experts before the contents of the black boxes were scrutinized.

Date created : 2014-10-22

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