By C. Bryson Hull
HOUSTON, July 26 (Reuters) - Survivors of five French crew members who perished in last summer's fiery crash of an Air France Concorde jet sued Continental Airlines
The families of four flight attendants and the co-pilot aboard Air France
The suit, which seeks unspecified damages, came Wednesday, exactly one year after the crash and two days after the release of an interim report by French safety investigators.
The interim report affirmed an initial finding that the venerable supersonic jet suffered the first crash in its history after running over metal debris on the runway.
The French Accident Investigation Bureau found the metal strip ruptured a tire, sending debris shooting into the aircraft's underwing fuel tank and causing a deadly fire seconds after take-off from Paris' Charles De Gaulle airport on July 25, 2000. The report noted that investigators still did not fully understand the mechanics of how the fuel tank burst.
The jet rode a fiery trail, captured by a passerby on a chilling videotape, before crashing into a hotel in Gonesse, killing all 109 on board and four people on the ground.
AIRLINE, TIREMAKER REJECT LIABILITY
Both Houston-based Continental and Akron, Ohio-based Goodyear rejected any liability for the crash.
"Our sympathy goes out to the victims of the accident, but we don't see how Contintental bears responsibility for it," Continental spokesman David Messing said.
Goodyear spokesman Chris Aked said the safety investigation stated there was nothing wrong with the tires and that it was the metal strip that caused the puncture and not a defect.
"We obviously sympathize with all the victims, but we are very certain about the quality and integrity of the tires," Aked said.
Goodyear, as well as Concorde manufacturers BAE Systems Plc
San Mateo, California-based law firm O'Reilly, Collins & Danko alleges that Continental improperly installed the metal strip onto one of their DC-10 jets 16 days before the crash.
The DC-10 in question, bound for Newark, New Jersey, and later found to be missing the strip, took off shortly before the New York-bound Concorde. Air France and its insurers last year sued Continental on the same grounds, and that case is still pending in a U.S. court.
The latest suit alleges the Goodyear tires were improperly designed for the Concorde, since unlike a conventional aircraft, the tires are located close to the supersonic jet's underwing fuel tanks and engine inlets. The tires should have been designed to deflate upon puncture, rather than explode and send chunks of tire carcass flying, the suit claims.
Concordes, which were grounded after the crash until British Airways
Plaintiff's attorney Michael Danko said his clients deserved the same recompense as the survivors of the dead passengers.
"We don't really know for sure why settlements were not offered to crewmembers' families. But we certainly have some ideas," he said.
The Warsaw Convention, which governs liability in international flight crash, only requires that carriers compensate the survivors of passenger victims, not crew.
Continental's Messing declined to comment when asked if the carrier paid settlements to the relatives of passenger victims but not those of the dead crew. Goodyear's Aked similarly declined to comment, but acknowledged the company was represented in the settlement negotations.
The suit does not name Air France because there is no apparent negligence on their part, Danko said.
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They'll sue Continental and Goodyear but not Air France? Something smells rotten.