Russian Investigators Blame Drunk Driver for Oil Exec’s Death

By Paul Gaita 10/22/14

Christophe de Margerie was killed on October 20 when a snow plow collided with his private jet.

Christophe de Margerie.jpg
Wiki Commons

On October 20, Christophe de Margerie, chief executive officer of Total SA, Europe’s third-largest oil company, was killed in a collision between his private jet and a snowplow on the tarmac of Moscow’s Vnukovo International Airport. Now, Russian and French investigators have placed the blame on the plow driver, Vladimir Martynenko, who is accused of operating the vehicle while intoxicated.

Investigators from the Interstate Aviation Committee, which examines all Russian air accidents, have included senior airport officials among the parties responsible for the crash, which claimed not only the life of the 63-year-old Margerie but also all three members of the plane’s crew. The Committee investigators cited “criminal negligence” through failure to ensure proper airport staff coordination as one of the causes of the accident, though they will also continue to investigate Martynenko’s state at the time of the crash and possible error by air traffic controllers.

Lawyers for Martynenko deny that their client was drunk at the time of the collision due to a chronic heart condition that prevents him from consuming alcohol. “[Martynenko] is in shock,” said legal representative Alexander Karabanov. “He considers himself guiltless, as he followed all the instructions from the dispatcher.” De Margerie, who had been CEO of Total since 2007, met with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev just hours before the accident to discuss investment opportunities.

A longtime critic of Western sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine conflict, Margerie had been a key figure in the United Nations’ oil-for-food program in Iraq, which attempted to aid that country’s residents while under sanctions placed by the U.S. after the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.