Updated at 10:10 a.m. ET
The CEO of French oil company Total, Christophe de Margerie, died when his plane collided with a snowplow Monday night at a Moscow airport. He was 63.
Total posted a statement on its website:
“Total confirms with deep regret and great sadness that Chairman and CEO Christophe de Margerie died just after 10pm (Paris time) on October 20 in a private plane crash at Vnukovo Airport in Moscow, following a collision with a snow removal machine.”
De Margerie had been attending a Russian government forum on foreign investment.
The accident also killed three crew members. A Russian official said the snowplow operator may have been under the influence, according to The Associated Press:
“The three other people on board, all of them French crew members, also died when the French-made Dassault Falcon 50 hit the snowplow on takeoff at 11:57 p.m. Monday. The plane crashed onto the runway and burst into flames, investigators said.
The driver, who was not hurt, was operating the snowplow under the influence of alcohol, Tatyana Morozova, an official with the Investigative Committee, Russia’s main investigative agency, told reporters at the airport. She said investigators are questioning the driver and also air traffic controllers and witnesses to the crash.”
But Russia Today reports that a lawyer for the snowplow operator said his client was not drunk at the time of the crash:
“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.”
De Margerie’s biography on the Total website says he joined the company in 1974 and became CEO in 2007. He was known for his large white mustache, as well as his colorful personality.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Russian and French officials have launched investigations into the collision, and that “the Paris prosecutor’s office said it had opened an investigation for ‘involuntary manslaughter’ into the incident.”
Total is the third-largest oil company in Europe. NPR’s Corey Flintoff told our Newscast unit that de Margerie was a strong supporter of energy cooperation between France and Russia, and that Total has been one of the biggest foreign investors in Russian oil fields.
Total was also implicated in a corruption scandal surrounding the U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq, and de Margerie was accused of misusing assets. But the company and CEO were acquitted in 2013.
French President Francois Hollande and Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed condolences over de Margerie’s death.