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Moscow airport workers plead guilty over Total CEO's fatal jet crash

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By Natalie Huet
Moscow airport workers plead guilty over Total CEO's fatal jet crash

Two Moscow airport workers pleaded guilty on Thursday to causing the accident that killed Christophe de Margerie, the head of French oil giant Total.

Appearing before a court in the Russian capital, the engineer in charge of snow clearing and the snow plough driver who collided with the CEO’s jet both admitted safety breaches and negligence. They risk up to seven years in prison.

Their guilty plea now makes it difficult for the court to look into any other potential cause for the crash.

Total CEO Christophe de Margerie, two pilots and a flight attendant died when their Falcon jet was hit by the snowplough during take-off on the night of October 20, 2014.

Vladimir Martynenko admitted in court he had driven his snow plough onto the runway in breach of safety rules. Duty engineer Vladimir Ledenev, who was in charge of the team of airport workers on the night of the crash, pleaded guilty to failing to prevent the accident.

The three others charged in the case, all air traffic controllers, pleaded innocent. Investigators said they failed to warn the pilots that the snowplough had moved on to the runway even as they had time to do so.

De Margerie, who was 63, was a charismatic business leader at the helm of Europe’s third-largest oil company for seven years. He was close to Russia and opposed Western sanctions over the crisis in Ukraine.

De Margerie had met then prime minister Dmitry Medvedev at his country residence to discuss investment just hours before the crash.

His family has not publicly commented on the case.

France is also probing the accident, with the Paris prosecutor’s office opening a judicial investigation into involuntary homicide caused by deliberate safety violations or failure to act prudently.