Total CEO crash: Investigators say snowplow driver ‘drunk’, lawyer rejects claim

The driver of the snowplow that caused the Falcon-50 plane crash in Moscow's Vnukovo airport (Screenshot from LIFENEWS video)
Russian prosecutors claim the driver of the snowplow which crashed with Total CEO Christophe de Margerie’s jet was drunk. His lawyer, however, says he was completely sober, due to a heart condition preventing him from drinking.

“My client is suffering from an acute heart condition; he does not drink at all and his relatives and friends can testify to that,” Aleksandr Karabanov, the lawyer, said.

“He was sober at the time of the crash,” he also said, adding that a number of lawyers will be involved in Martynenkov’s defense. “We don’t want the blame for the accident to fall on an ordinary man,” he added.

Karabanov also made clear that he will insist on an independent expertise to determine the presence of alcohol in his client's bloodstream.

Russia’s Investigative Committee Vladimir Markin also told the reporters on Tuesday adding “there is a possibility that a number of airport staff will be suspended from carrying out their duties pending criminal investigation.” He also did not rule out the possibility of new arrests being made during the course of the investigation.

"Although the prime suspects have been established, it does not in any way exclude the fault of their overseers and other personell higher up on the chain of command. It is their action, or inaction, that the investigation will be assess legally."

The Falcon 50 business jet carrying the French oil giant's CEO hit a snow-plow at around 12:10am Moscow time on Tuesday. Although previous reports indicated otherwise, the plane did not leave ground following the collision.

The CEO of France’s oil and gas giant Total, Christophe de Margerie, was the only passenger in the jet, while three crewmembers who were also French citizens perished as well.

A criminal investigation has been launched into possible violation of safe-driving regulations involving an aircraft, resulting in the death of two or more persons.

“Some of the main theories being investigated at this time are a mistake by air traffic control and the actions of the snowplow driver. Bad weather conditions and the possibility of a mistake by the pilot will also be considered,” Markin said.

If proven guilty, the sentence for the driver under Russian law could be up to seven years in prison.

It has also been determined that the taxiing shortly before the crash was being coordinated by a traffic control intern, RIA Novosti was told by a source inside Vnukovo. The official spokesman for the airport has declined to comment. Air traffic control personnel will be tested for alcohol and drugs, the investigators said.

The black boxes are currently on their way to the IAC’s lab facilities, but will not be processed until the arrival of specialists from France.

Investigators are also examining technical documentation and testing fuel samples, according to Markin.

He added that “the scene is being investigated with the help of representatives from the Interstate Aviation Committee” and that “staffers are being questioned at this time.”

“Owing to the gravity of the matter of the Falcon-300 crash in Vnukovo,” the head for the Investigative Committee Aleksandr Bastrykin will personally hold a meeting with the investigative group and airport personnel, according to Markin.

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As a result of the tragedy, the Regional Transport Prosecutor’s Office is to carry out a full investigation of the entire airport and its functioning and will give a comprehensive analysis of its findings.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed his condolences over the Total CEO's death. TASS cited his spokesman as saying that "Vladimir Putin has long known de Margerie and had a close working relationship with him."

“I am shocked at the news,” the Russian leader conveyed to French President Francois Hollande.

“I ask that you offer my sincerest wishes and condolences to the friends and families of Christophe de Margerie – a renowned French entrepreneur, who has helped spearhead a great number of join projects, which have been the source of a long and fruitful partnership between Russia and France in the energy sphere,” Putin continued.

“When we lost Christophe de Margerie, we lost a real friend to our nation, and we shall hold his memory very dear.”

Russian authorities will do all what is necessary to quickly investigate the plane crash which killed Total CEO Christophe de Margerie, said Russia’s PM Dmitry Medvedev in a telegram to his French counterpart, Manuel Valls.

“[We] will do everything possible for quicker investigation of the reasons of the [plane] crash,” said Medvedev.

READ MORE:‘Shock & sadness’ as Total CEO dies in Moscow plane crash