Concorde Victims' Lawyer to Sue Continental

A lawyer representing some of the 113 people killed in July’s Air France Concorde crash said today he would sue Continental Airlines based on evidence from a preliminary report into the disaster.

French investigators have said they believe a strip of metal found on the Paris runway punctured one of Concorde’s tires, hurling chunks of rubber into the plane’s fuel tanks and sparking a fatal blaze seems identical to one missing from a Continental DC-10 jet.

Lawyer Christof Wellens, who represents relatives of 20 of the mostly German victims, said he planned to use crash report evidence for action against Continental in the United States, where damages payments are typically much higher than in Europe.

“We are preparing a claim against Continental,” Wellens told Reuters by telephone from his office in the western town of Moenchengladbach, where 13 victims lived.

Experts from France’s Air Accident Investigation Bureau (BEA), Continental, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation and Safety Board found the piece was missing when they inspected the Continental plane in Houston on Saturday, Continental said in a statement earlier this month.

“Visual inspection suggests that it could have come from Continental’s aircraft,” it said. “Because the investigation and Continental’s full cooperation in that investigation are continuing, Continental feels it is inappropriate to comment further at this time.”

Wellens said he would give further details about the claim at a news conference on Wednesday, but stressed he was also still holding talks on a settlement with Air France, along with other lawyers representing victims’ relatives.

New York Possible Court Site

“Air France has a strong interest in a settlement to avoid having to face a claim in the U.S.,” he said.

Cologne lawyer Gerhardt Baum, the other main representative of German families, said this month he would consider filing a U.S. suit — possible since the Concorde was bound for New York — if the airline failed to agree an out-of-court payment.

Air France has said it will compensate the 100 passengers, along with four people killed on the ground when the plane ploughed into a hotel shortly after take-off from Paris. But the airline’s insurers have declined to name any compensation sum.

Neither lawyer has specified the level of damages they are seeking, but insurance industry experts say the “going rate” in air crashes in the U.S. is about $2.4 million per passenger.