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Concorde Crash Trial Begins in France

Nearly a decade after a Concorde supersonic plane crashed outside Paris, killing 113 people, U.S.-based Continental Airlines and five people are on trial on manslaughter charges. The trial is expected to offer two very different explanations for the airline's crash.

The Concorde crash on July 25, 2000, shook the aviation world and dealt a blow to an aircraft that was the pride of Europe.

With smoke and flames trailing from its engines, the New York-bound plane went down just two minutes after takeoff, crashing into a hotel near Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris. All 109 people on board and four hotel workers were killed. Three years later, the Concorde was taken out of service for good.

Now, Continental Airlines and five people, Concorde workers and a former French civil aviation official, are in court outside Paris facing manslaughter charges. If found guilty, Continental could be fined up to $520,000 and the individuals risk up to five years in jail and lesser fines.

French investigators and justice officials claim that as it was taking off Concorde ran over a thin strip of metal that had fallen off a Continental plane that took off just minutes before. According to the hypothesis, the metal caused a tire to explode and some of the debris flew into the engine and fuel tank, causing a fire.

Continental disputes this version of events. Speaking on French radio, Continental's lawyer, Olivier Metzner, offered a very different explanation.

Metzner says the fire erupted eight seconds before the plane ran over the metal strip. He says he has witness accounts to back this up.

Continental claims the Concorde had serious design defects and questions the plane's safety and maintenance record. The trial wraps up at the end of May.