Heads roll in Russia over Total crash

Heads rolled in Russia Thursday over the plane crash that killed the CEO of French oil giant Total, with top airport managers resigning and four more staff detained.

AFP| Updated: Oct 23, 2014, 17:41 PM IST

Moscow: Heads rolled in Russia Thursday over the plane crash that killed the CEO of French oil giant Total, with top airport managers resigning and four more staff detained.

The driver of the snowplough that collided with Total boss Christophe de Margerie`s plane as it was taking off from a Moscow airport late Monday was also ordered to be held behind bars for two months.

The new staff detained include a trainee air traffic controller who reportedly directed the doomed plane, her supervisor, the heads of the air traffic controllers at Vnukovo airport and runway cleaners.

"The investigation suggests that these people did not respect the norms of flight security and ground operations, which led to the tragedy," the powerful Investigative Committee in charge of the probe said.

Vnukovo airport also said its general director and his deputy had resigned "due to the tragic event" after the management was accused of "criminal negligence" by investigators.

However they have not been detained by investigators.

The 63-year-old De Margerie was killed along with three crew members when the plane hit the snowplough as it was taking off shortly before midnight and burst into flames.He will be buried on Monday in a private funeral in Normandy in northern France, local officials said.

A Moscow court ruled that the 60-year-old snowplough driver, who was held immediately after the crash, be held behind bars for two months after investigators said he was drunk at the wheel.

They said Vladimir Martynenko had a blood alcohol content of 0.6 grams of ethanol per litre of blood, compared to the legal limit of zero for driving in Russia.

Interfax news agency reported that he had admitted drinking coffee with a liqueur.

Martynenko, still wearing his work uniform, did not speak at Thursday`s hearing.

But his lawyer Alexander Karabanov said afterwards that Martynenko "does not admit guilt, he admits his involvement".He told reporters the accident could have been the result of "someone`s incorrect instructions".

"It`s a tragedy that happened by chance," Karabanov said.

Martynenko told investigators in footage of his questioning shown on television this week that he "lost my bearings" and didn`t notice he was on the runway.

"The plane was running up to takeoff and I practically couldn`t see it because my equipment was on. There weren`t even any lights, nothing."

Investigators, who have been joined by French experts, are analysing the jet`s black boxes, which record the flight history and cockpit conversations.

A source at the airport had told AFP that a young woman who was hired only in August was overseeing the takeoff of the executive jet.

Investigators named the detained trainee as Svetlana Krivsun.

However, media reports quoted an air traffic controller as saying such novices would always be supervised by a more experienced colleague.

In Paris on Wednesday, Total named new bosses to replace De Margerie.

The board brought back Thierry Desmarest -- who was both chairman and chief executive at Total from 1995 to 2007 -- as chairman of the group.

Philippe Pouyanne, who currently heads the refining and chemicals division, was named chief executive.

De Margerie had been chief executive of Total since 2007 and spent his entire 40-year career at the group, which employs 100,000 people and posted revenues of 189.5 billion euros ($240 billion) in 2013.A descendant of a family of diplomats and business leaders, De Margerie was the grandson of Pierre Taittinger, founder of the eponymous champagne and luxury goods dynasty.

Married with three children and highly regarded within the oil industry, he was known for his jolly nature.

Not one to shy from controversy, De Margerie was an outspoken critic of Western sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis.

Even as relations between the West and Russia deteriorated to the worst since the Cold War, he had criticised the sanctions as a "dead-end".

Vedomosti business daily said in an editorial Thursday that De Margerie was "one of the most active investors of the Russian oil and gas sector" and that his death -- caused by "elementary" management failures -- was emblematic of Russia`s increasingly dire investment climate.