The chief executive of French energy giant Total, Christophe de Margerie, has died in an air crash in Moscow, along with three French crew members.
Airport officials say the business jet he was travelling in collided with a snowplough on take-off just before midnight.
Investigators say there’s evidence that the snowplough driver was drunk.
“The black boxes have already been handed over for investigation. There are different versions for the cause of the accident – air controller mistake and the actions of the snow removal machine driver. Other versions will be checked – weather conditions and pilots’ mistakes. At present, the investigation has already confirmed that the snow removal machine driver was in an alcoholic condition, and this is the main factor in this accident,” said Tatiana Morozova, senior assistant to the head of the Moscow transport investigative department.
The driver was apparently unhurt in the collision.
Visibility was said to have been 350 metres at the time of the crash. The black box recorders have been recovered and handed over to investigators.
Officials at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport – the Russian capital’s oldest and third largest – said the collision happened just before midnight. The Falcon jet had been due to fly to Paris.
French President François Hollande, a personal friend of de Margerie, said he was “stunned and saddened”.
The French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron told French TV:
“There’s no reason to be concerned for Total’s future. Christophe de Margerie was a great leader and a great leader builds a company whose success goes beyond his own, so there will be continuity. It’s a day of mourning, but there’s no need for unnecessary worries right now.”
With his outspoken manner and distinctive moustache, De Margerie was one of the most recognisable figures in the oil industry.
The 63-year-old had been in Moscow to attend a government meeting on foreign investment. Total’s output in Russia was due to double by 2020.
President Putin paid tribute to de Margerie’s business skills and commitment to “promoting French-Russian relations”.
The 63-year-old was a staunch defender of Russia and its energy policies and a critic of Western sanctions against Moscow over the Ukraine crisis, which he considered to be counterproductive.
In July this year he warned that Europe should stop thinking about cutting its dependence on Russian gas and should talk instead about making deliveries safer.
“Are we going to build a new Berlin Wall?” he asked in an interview.
De Margerie also said that he should be judged based on new projects launched under his watch, such as a string of African fields.
Total is France’s second-biggest listed company with a market value of 102 billion euros.