Provence & Côte d’Azur: Criminal court in Nice opens a ‘Pandora’s box’ as they review once again the case of the Ajaccio-Nice plane crashThe other 9/11
In the wake of the death of Osama bin Laden, what happened on 9/11 is at the forefront of many people’s minds. It is thus a strange coincidence that attention in Nice has been turned to another plane-related disaster that shares this infamous date with the attack on New York’s Twin Towers.
To this day the incident is cloaked in scandal, dogged by claims that a military test-fire of unloaded missiles shot down the aircraft while it was passing over the coastline of Antibes.
Officially, the Air France flight 1611 crashed into the sea because a fire broke out in the plane’s toilet. According to theBureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses (BEA) the blaze was most likely caused by a lit cigarette; yet this explanation has been strongly contested by the grieving families of the victims for the last 43 years.
The relatives argue that the original statements given by the BEA specialists were false and that there is ‘hard’ evidence that suggest that a military missile, and not an internal fire, was behind the tragedy. This theory has developed despite claims made by the then Defense Minister, Michel Debré, in a statement dated 26th of September 1969, that there was no missile test running on the ill-fated day. There were, he continued, also no weapons fired by the missile test centre based on the Isle of Levant (very close to the air route used by the tragic passenger carrier).
The minister’s statement was thrown into question, however, when documents emerged not long after, including a confidential memo from the army, which countered his claims. The military were then accused of intervening repeatedly, and somewhat strangely, in the search for the wreckage, which was finally spotted in 1971 off the coast of Antibes. Yet not all of the wreckage was recovered, meaning that more evidence could still be hidden beneath the sea.
On the 9th September 2006, 38-years after the crash, the families formed an association and collectively sued the Ministry of Defense for corporate manslaughter, effectively accusing the French government of the responsibility for the 95 lives lost.
Then finally, on Monday, the case was considered in the Nice courts by Judge Morean-Zalma and the group took their evidence to the stand. This included the testimonies of aviation experts, who indicated that, as the aircraft had been serviced only a few days before the tragedy, it logically could not have crashed due to a fire caused by a cigarette. They claim that such an incident, in a part of the cabin nowhere near the cockpit, would not cause a crew to suddenly lose control of a plane in the way that they did on September 9th, 1968.
Another witness statement brought to the stand was Bernard Famchon de Venansault, a waiter at the 40e régiment d’artillerie (artillery service) in Suippes, in the northern region of Champagne-Ardenne. Venansault claims that a solider, who had been part of a battalion stationed on the on the Isle of Levant in September 1968, confessed to him that on the day of the crash a missile test had been programmed to hit an out-of-service military air craft. When the Air France plane passed over the radar, the missile went off. Soon after, the soldiers were ordered to stop the test because a civilian plane was passing but by then it was too late and the missile hit.
Despite the new evidence in their favour, the plaintiffs were left bitterly disappointed on Monday after their association was judged to not have the standard necessary to take legal action against the Ministry of Defense. The representative was ordered to document the names of all of those individuals signed with the association and the case is now officially adjourned until December 2012.