London, UK | – The chief executive of French multinational oil and gas company Total, Christophe de Margerie has died in an air crash in Moscow.
Airport officials say the business jet he was travelling in collided with a snow-plough on take-off. Three crew members also died. Russian investigators have said there is evidence that the driver of the snowplough was drunk. A criminal investigation has been launched.
Witnesses said the plane burst into flames on impact. Wreckage was scattered up to 200 metres away from the initial crash site.
Visibility was said to have been only 350 metres at the time. Civil aviation authorities have launched an investigation.
Moscow’s Vnukovo airport – the Russian capital’s third main hub – said the collision happened just before midnight. The Falcon jet had been due to fly to Paris. De Margerie had been in Moscow to attend a government meeting on foreign investment.
With his outspoken manner and distinctive moustache, the 63-year-old was one of the most recognisable figures in the oil industry.
Christophe de Margerie, Total’s chief executive since 2007 was a staunch defender of Russia and its energy policies amid the conflict with Ukraine.
The French oil giant is one of the top foreign investors in the country and has been hit by the worsening relations between Moscow and the West.
In July this year he warned that Europe should stop thinking about cutting its dependence on Russian gas and should talk instead about making deliveries safer.
“Are we going to build a new Berlin Wall?” he said in an interview.
De Margerie also said that he should be judged based on new projects launched under his watch, such as a string of African fields. Total is France’s second-biggest listed company with a market value of 102 billion euros.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev have offered their condolences to the family and friends of Christophe de Margerie.
“I am shocked by the news about the air crash in the Moscow Vnukovo airport which claimed the life of Total CEO Christophe de Margerie,” Putin said in a telegram sent to his French counterpart, Francois Hollande.
Calling de Margerie, who pioneered a large number of major joint projects, an outstanding French entrepreneur, Putin said, “We lost a true friend of our country and we will always keep him in good memory.”
Medvedev offered his condolences to the family of de Margerie and the management of Total, calling his death “an enormous loss,” said the Russian government’s press service.