Five employees of Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport have been arrested as part of the investigation into the runway crash that killed, Christophe de Margerie, the 63-year old CEO of the French oil giant Total last Monday at Vnukovo Airport just outside Moscow. Investigators are looking into the crash when de Margerie’s plane ran into a snowplow during takeoff en route back to France.
Along with de Margerie, three French crew members were also killed in the accident when the plane, a French Dassault Falcon 50, hit the snowplow and then burst into flames around 11:57pm Moscow time. The Falcon 50 is a business jet and de Margerie was the only passenger on board. Snowplows were operating on Vnukovo runways because of snowfall from earlier in the day.
Snowplow operator Vladimir Martynenko was cited for being drunk at the time, but he has entered a not-guilty plea according to his attorney, Alexander Karabanov. Karabanov says that his client does not drink due to a heart condition. The snowplow operator claimed that he had become disoriented in the snow just before the collision. If convicted, Martynenko could face up to seven years in a Russian prison.
In a follow-up to the investigation, four additional employees were arrested yesterday in connection with the case. Those arrested and detained for questioning were Vladimir Ledenev, who oversees Vnukovo’s snow removal operations, Roman Dunayev, the airport’s flight chief, Airport manager Aleksander Kruglov, and Svetlana Kirvsun, a management-trainee.
Although there is growing passenger traffic at the facility with over 11 million passengers last year, Vnukovo is Moscow’s oldest airport, and is the smallest of the region’s airports. Vnukovo serves largely government and business flights from its location 28 kilometres (17 miles) southwest of Moscow. The accident that killed the Total CEO was the second fatal incident at Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport since a crash that killed five persons when a passenger plane operated by Red Wings Air overran the runway in 2012.
Prior to takeoff for a planned return to Paris, de Margerie had met Russia’s Foreign Investment Advisory Council, and with Russian business and government leaders. Shortly before returning to the airport, de Margerie had also met with Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev to discuss new investment projects.
Russian President Vladimir Putin quickly expressed his condolences following the accident. A presidential spokesman told Russia’s TASS news agency that “Vladimir Putin has long known de Margerie” and the spokesman added that Putin and de Margerie shared “a close working relationship.” In a message to French President Francois Hollande, Putin said that Russia had “lost a real friend to our nation.” Putin noted that de Margerie had been critical of Western sanctions against Russia.
Born in 1951, de Margerie joined Total after graduating from business school in 1974. He was named as the company’s CEO in 2007. With the news that Total’s CEO had been killed in the Moscow crash, Total’s board of directors have selected Patrick Pouyanne, leader of Total’s refining and chemicals division, to take over the CEO position. Russian investigators have promised an aggressive look into the details of the crash.
By Jim Hanemaayer