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Snowplough driver 'didn't see jet'

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 Christophe de Margerie was killed when his corporate jet collided with a snow plough at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport (AP)

Christophe de Margerie was killed when his corporate jet collided with a snow plough at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport (AP)

Christophe de Margerie was killed when his corporate jet collided with a snow plough at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport (AP)

The driver of the snowplough that apparently caused the plane carrying the Total CEO to crash at a Russian airport says he neither saw nor heard the private jet as it sped toward him down the runway in the dark.

The Dassault Falcon 50 clipped the snowplough on take-off at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport late on Monday and crashed, bursting into flames and killing Total SA chief executive Christophe de Margerie and the three French crew members on board.

Investigators have detained the snowplough driver, who they say was drinking on the job. His lawyer denies this.

Television reports showed footage of the driver, Vladimir Martynenko, being questioned. He said he did not notice that he had strayed onto the runway, nor hear the plane over the noise of the snowplough or see any lights.

"The plane was taking off, and I practically didn't see it or hear it because the equipment was operating," Mr Martynenko told investigators. "There were not even any headlights, or at least I didn't see them. And then there was the hit."

The television report said he has worked for 10 years at Vnukovo, the airport used by Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, and visiting official delegations.

His lawyer, Alexander Karabanov, said Mr Martynenko does not drink and any smell of alcohol could have come from drops that his client takes for a heart condition. He was not injured in the accident.

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Investigators were quick to pin the blame on Mr Martynenko, while noting that they also were looking into the role of the air traffic controllers. Today they took aim at the airport managers.

Investigators were working to get some airport employees suspended to prevent them from interfering in the criminal case and do not exclude further arrests, said Vladimir Markin, spokesman for the Investigative Committee, Russia's main investigative agency.

"It is already clear that the reason for what happened was not at all a horrible, tragic concurrence of circumstances, as representatives of the airport try to portray it, but the criminal connivance of officials who were unable to ensure the coordinated work of airport employees," Mr Markin said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Total's board held an emergency meeting today at which they named Patrick Pouyanne as the new CEO.

Prior to his nomination Mr Pouyanne, 51, led Total's refining and chemicals division since 2012.

He has been with Total since 1997, starting off as head of exploration and production in Angola.


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