Moscow airport snowplow driver says he didn’t see Total CEO plane before crash

The driver of the snowplow that apparently caused the plane carrying the Total CEO to crash at a Moscow 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 snowplow on takeoff late 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 snowplow driver, who they say was drinking on the job. His lawyer denies this.

Channel One state television on Wednesday showed footage of the driver, Vladimir Martynenko, being questioned. He said he didn’t notice that he had strayed onto the runway and didn’t hear the plane over the noise of the snowplow or see any lights.

“The plane was taking off, and I practically didn’t see it or hear it because the equipment was operating,” Martynenko, a grey-haired man wearing blue coveralls, 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 in Moscow used by Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, and visiting official delegations.

His lawyer, Alexander Karabanov, said 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.

Investigators on Tuesday were quick to pin the blame on Martynenko, while noting that they also were looking into the role of the air traffic controllers. On Wednesday, 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 co-ordinated work of airport employees,” Markin said in a statement.

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

Prior to his nomination 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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