Moscow snowplough driver says lost bearings caused collision with plane, killing Total CEO

Snow ploughs are seen at Moscow's Vnukovo airport, Oct 21, 2014. Russia's transportation watchdog said on Tuesday that the plane in which the head of French oil major Total, Christophe de Margerie, was killed in a Moscow airport late on Monday crashe
Snow ploughs are seen at Moscow's Vnukovo airport, Oct 21, 2014. Russia's transportation watchdog said on Tuesday that the plane in which the head of French oil major Total, Christophe de Margerie, was killed in a Moscow airport late on Monday crashed in "bad visibility". -- PHOTO: REUTERS

MOSCOW (AFP) - The driver of the snowplough that blocked the take-off of a private plane at a Moscow airport, killing the CEO of France's Total oil company, said he drove onto the runway after losing his bearings.

The grey-haired, 60-year-old driver told investigators he could not understand how he drove into the path of the plane, according to a video aired on Wednesday on state-controlled Channel One state television.

Mr Vladimir Martynenkov, still wearing his airport uniform, told investigators: "When I lost my bearings, I myself didn't notice when I drove onto the runway - that is, let's say I drove out."

Investigators had said on Monday that the driver was drunk, but Mr Martynenkov spoke clearly and looks calm in footage, apparently shot on a cellphone. His lawyer told state television that Martynenkov does not drink because of a heart condition but could have consumed a remedy that contained "a few drops" of alcohol.

The driver has been detained for 48 hours and a Moscow court was to rule later Wednesday whether he can be formally arrested.

The driver said that he barely noticed that the plane was taking off because his snowplough was operating noisily and it was dark.

"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," he said, shrugging.

"I didn't see it, and the collision happened."

It was not clear whether he was referring to a lack of lights on the ground or to the navigation lights on the small Falcon 50-EX plane.

The driver had worked at the Vnukovo airport for 10 years, Channel One reported.

The death of Total's 63-year-old chief executive Christophe de Margerie, in a fire sparked by the late-night collision, along with his French pilots and stewardess, has seen investigators scrambling for answers.

They have initially highlighted errors by the snowplough driver and air traffic controllers as the most likely scenario, while saying weather conditions and possible pilot error were also being examined.

Investigators also warned that senior officials at the airport bore ultimate responsibility for errors by ground staff, saying they appeared to be guilty of "criminal negligence".