Russia detains four over Total boss plane crash

This combo picture shows two black boxes belonging to Christophe de Margerie's Dassault Falcon jet made available on Oct 22, 2014, in Moscow. -- PHOTO: AFP
This combo picture shows two black boxes belonging to Christophe de Margerie's Dassault Falcon jet made available on Oct 22, 2014, in Moscow. -- PHOTO: AFP

MOSCOW (AFP) - Russia has detained four Moscow airport employees over a crash which killed the head of French oil giant Total when his jet hit a snowplough, investigators said Thursday.  

The authorities at Vnukovo airport where the accident occurred also announced the resignations of its general director and his deputy after the management was accused of “criminal negligence” by investigators.

Total chief executive Christophe de Margerie was killed along with the plane’s three-member crew in Monday’s late night crash.  

The detained snowplough driver, who has said he accidentally strayed on to the runway, also arrived at a Moscow district court on Thursday for a hearing to decide whether he should be placed under formal arrest.  

The other four employees detained include the intern air traffic controller in charge of directing the doomed plane, her supervisor, the head of air traffic controllers and the chief of runway cleaning, Russia’s investigative committee said in a statement.  

“The investigation suggests that these people did not respect the norms of flight security and ground operations, which led to the tragedy,” it said. “They have been detained as suspects.”

The intern who was reportedly directing De Margerie’s plane was named in the media as Svetlana Krivsun.  Vnukovo airport also said its general director for the last nine years, Andrei Dyakov, and his deputy Sergei Solntsev had both resigned “due to the tragic event”.  

The airport added it was doing all it could “to ensure the aviation incident is investigated quickly and objectively”.  

Investigators on Tuesday had warned that the airport’s senior management was ultimately responsible for failing to coordinate the actions of staff, saying this amounted to “criminal negligence”.

The powerful Investigative Committee leading the probe warned that some airport staff would be suspended to prevent them hindering the investigation and that there could be detentions.  Neither of the two airport directors who resigned has been detained by investigators, however.  

The 60-year-old snowplough driver Vladimir Martynenko has said he had lost his bearings and strayed on to the runway.  

“When I lost my bearings, I myself didn’t notice when I drove onto the runway,” he was shown on Russian television telling investigators.  Investigators said the driver was drunk at the time of the accident, a claim denied by his lawyer.  

Interfax news agency reported that he had admitted drinking coffee with a liqueur before taking the wheel of the snowplough and that tests afterwards found a small amount of alcohol in his blood.  

“If he remains at liberty, Martyenko can hide from the investigation, put pressure on witnesses and destroy evidence,” an investigator said at Thursday’s hearing, cited by RIA Novosti news agency.