Paris (AFP) – French oil giant Total on Wednesday named new bosses to lead one of the world s biggest energy companies after its chief executive was killed in Moscow when his private jet hit a snowplough as it was taking off.
The boardroom shakeup came as the snowplough driver said he had lost his bearings and strayed on to the runway, and reports emerged that a novice air traffic controller was in charge of directing the doomed plane.
In Paris, Total executives decided at an emergency meeting to bring back Thierry Desmarest — who was both chairman and chief executive at Total from 1995 to 2007 — as chairman of the group after Christophe de Margerie s death in Monday night s accident.
Desmarest, who had once prepared De Margerie for the top job, now appears to have been asked to do the same for newly named chief executive Philippe Pouyanne, who currently heads the refining and chemicals division.
He will stay on until the end of 2015 when Pouyanne is expected to be ready to assume the chairman s job as well, ensuring a smooth transition after the death of 63-year-old De Margerie, known by the affectionate nickname “Big Moustache”.
Total shares gained 0.37 percent to close at 44.59 euros, recovering from a low point hit before the new appointments were made.
In Moscow, French investigators joined a local team to probe the accident, which Russian experts said was caused by criminal negligence on the part of senior airport officials.
Three crew members were killed along with De Margerie.
Investigators began analysing the jet s black boxes, which record the flight history and conversations in the cockpit.
Questions rose over the safety of the Vnukovo airport used often by VIPs, as airport sources said a novice was in charge of directing the plane at the time of the crash.
“It is a young woman who was hired in August,” one source told AFP on condition of anonymity, confirming several Russian media reports.
RIA Novosti state news agency quoted an air traffic controller however as saying that such newcomers would always be supervised by a more experienced colleague.
– Lost my bearings –
Snowplough driver Vladimir Martynenko, accused by investigators of having been drunk on the job, told investigators in footage aired on Russian television he had got lost.
“When I lost my bearings, I myself didn t notice when I drove onto the runway,” the 60-year-old said.
“The plane was running up to takeoff and I practically couldn t see it because my equipment was on. There weren t even any lights, nothing.”
Investigators had said the driver was drunk, but Martynenko spoke clearly and looked calm in the footage, apparently shot on a cellphone.
His lawyer told state television that Martynenko does not drink because of a heart condition but could have consumed a remedy that contained “a few drops” of alcohol.
The driver has been detained for 48 hours.
Members of De Margerie s bereaved family are heading to Moscow to bring home his body to be buried in Normandy in northern France.
However there were no details about when his body would be repatriated.