A French judge ruled on Monday that Continental Airlines and one of its mechanics were guilty of involuntary homicide for their role in the 2000 crash of an Air France Concorde jet that killed 113 people. In 2002, the French investigators found that a small strip of metal had fallen off a Continental DC-10 that took off minutes earlier and that the piece punctured a tire of the Concorde as it accelerated down the runway on July 25, 2000. The tire came apart and shards of rubber went into the fuel tanks and causing the catastrophic fire. Continental will appeal the verdict, which has already taken years to work its way through the French legal system. The effect, if any, that the the criminal verdict will have on improving aviation safety remains to be seen. Europe, unlike the U.S., has begun to regularly criminally prosecute those responsible for aviation disasters. Proponents of "criminalizing" aviation law believe that it is important to hold accountable those responsible for aviation disasters. Opponents say that full disclosure following an aviation disaster is paramount and the threat of criminal charges will cause witnesses to "lawyer up,"thereby hampering the investigatation. In the U.S., it is extremely rare that any criminal charges are brought following an aviation diaster. It is also rare that the Federal Aviation Administration will agressively go after those responsible for a diaster. The February 12, 2009 Continental Connection 3407 diaster is a case in point. Despite the disaster's horrific facts – particularly the complete incompetence of the flight crew – the FAA has not taken any signficant steps against Continental or Colgan, which was flying the flight under contract with Continental. The families have taken matters into their own hands and lobbied Congress to change the rules that allowed such incompentent pilots to cause fifty deaths. For those who say that the criminal verdict in France is too much punishment for Continental and its mechanic, I say that there is too little punishment of those who cause aviation disasters in the U.S.
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