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FRANCE - RUSSIA

Snowplough driver claims he drove onto runway after "losing his bearings"

Vladimir Martynenko signs his testimony before his lawyer in Moscow
Vladimir Martynenko signs his testimony before his lawyer in Moscow REUTERS/Karabanov and Partners Law Office/Handout via Reuters

Total CEO Christophe de Margerie was killed on Monday night after his private plane collided with the snow clearing vehicle during take-off at Vnukovo airport in Moscow.

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According to a video aired on Channel One state television, Vladimir Martynenkov told investigators he could not understand how he drove into the path of the plane.

The 60-year-old, still wearing his airport uniform, told investigators: "When I lost my bearings, I myself didn't notice when I drove onto the runway -- that is, let's say I drove out."

Investigators had said on Monday that the snowplough driver was drunk. However, the video, shot on a cellphone, shows Martynenkov speaking clearly and looking calm.

His lawyer said that Martynenkov 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 though not formally arrested. A Moscow court is expected to give a ruling about it on Wednesday.

The driver said that he barely noticed that the plane was taking off because his snowplough was operating noisily and it was dark.

"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," he said, shrugging.

"I didn't see it, and the collision happened."

According to the TV channel,  the driver had worked at the Vnukovo airport for 10 years.

Investigators had earlier said that errors by the snowplough driver and air traffic controllers was the most likely scenario, while saying weather conditions and possible pilot error were also being examined.

They also pointed out that senior officials at the airport bore ultimate responsibility for errors by ground staff, saying they appeared to be guilty of "criminal negligence".
 

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