MOSCOW (REUTERS, AFP) - The chief executive of French oil major Total, Mr Christophe de Margerie, was killed when a business jet collided with a snow plow during takeoff at Moscow's Vnukovo International Airport, the company and airport officials said.
The collision occurred late on Monday, just minutes before midnight Moscow time, the airport said in a statement. The Dassault Falcon business jet carrying de Margerie had been due to travel to Paris.
"Total confirms with deep regret and great sadness that Chairman and CEO Christophe de Margerie died just after 10 pm (Paris time) on October 20 in a private plane crash at Vnukovo Airport in Moscow, following a collision with a snow removal machine," the company said in a statement.
Total said the plane's three crew also died.
Mr De Margerie was on a list of attendees at a Russian government meeting on foreign investment in Gorki, near Moscow, on Monday.
Mr De Margerie, 63, a graduate of the Ecole Superieure de Commerce business school in Paris, became chief executive officer of Total in February 2007, taking on the additional role of chairman in May 2010, after previously running its exploration and production division.
Total is France's second-biggest listed company with a market value of 102 billion euros (S$166 billion) and the West's fourth biggest oil and gas group.
The company cut its 2017 oil output goal last month and said it would step up asset sales and overhaul exploration.
Like other big oil companies, Total has been under pressure from shareholders to cut costs and raise dividends as rising costs in the industry and weaker oil prices squeeze profitability.
Mr De Margerie said in July that he should be judged based on new projects launched under his watch, such as a string of African fields. He also said then that Total would seek a successor from within the company rather than an outsider.
Total is one of the top foreign investors in Russia, but its future there grew cloudy after the July 17 downing of a Malaysian passenger airliner over Ukrainian territory held by pro-Russian rebels worsened the oil-rich country's relations with the West and raised the threat of deeper sanctions.
Total said last month that sanctions would not stop it from working on the Yamal project - a US$27 billion (S$34 billion) joint venture investment to tap vast natural gas reserves in northwest Siberia that aims to double Russia's stake in the fast-growing market for liquefied natural gas.
Mr De Margerie said then that Europe could not live without Russian gas, adding that there was no reason to do so.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday praised Mr de Margerie as a "true friend of our country."
In a telegram sent to French President Francois Hollande, published by the Kremlin, Mr Putin said he was "shocked by the news" of Mr De Margerie's mishap.
Mr Putin asked Mr Hollande to "pass on the most sincere condolences and words of sympathy" to De Margerie's family and loved ones. He praised the oil boss as "an outstanding French entrepreneur who originated many major joint projects that formed the basis of many years of fruitful cooperation between Russia and France in the energy sector."
"In Christophe de Margerie, we lost a real friend of our country, whom we will remember with the greatest warmth," Mr Putin said.
Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov earlier told Russian news agencies that the president had known the French oil boss for a long time and "highly esteemed De Margerie's business qualities and his consistent devotion to developing not only bilateral Russia-French relations, but also mutually rewarding multi-faceted cooperation as a whole."