MOSCOW: The head of French oil giant Total SA was killed at a Moscow airport when his corporate jet collided with a snowplow whose driver was drunk, Russian investigators said Tuesday.
Total confirmed "with deep regret and sadness" that Chairman and CEO Christophe de Margerie died in the crash at Moscow's Vnukovo airport.
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.
De Margerie, 63, was a regular fixture at international economic gatherings and one of the French business community's most outspoken and recognizable figures, with his trademark silver moustache.
He was a vocal critic of sanctions against Russia, arguing that isolating Russia was bad for the global economy. He traveled regularly to Russia and recently dined in Paris with a Putin ally who is under EU sanctions.
On Monday, de Margerie took part in a meeting of Russia's Foreign Investment Advisory Council with members of Russia's government and other international business executives.
President Vladimir Putin extended his condolences in a telegram sent to French President Francois Hollande.
Putin said de Margerie "stood at the origins of the many major joint projects that have laid the basis for the fruitful cooperation between Russia and France in the energy sphere for many years," according to a text released by the Kremlin.
Hollande expressed his "stupor and sadness" at the news. In a statement, he praised de Margerie for defending French industry on the global stage, and for his "independent character and original personality."
De Margerie had risen through the ranks at Total, serving in several positions in the finance department and exploration and production division before becoming president of Total Middle East in 1995. He became a member of Total's policy-making executive committee in 1999, became CEO in 2007, and added the post of chairman in 2010.
He was a central figure in Total's role in the United Nations oil-for-food program in Iraq in the 1990s. Total paid a fine in the U.S. in this case, though De Margerie was acquitted on corruption charges by a French court.
Paris-based Total is the fifth-largest publicly traded integrated international oil and gas company in the world, with exploration and production operations in more than 50 countries, according to a profile on the company's website.
Total shares opened lower Tuesday morning after the news, then climbed slightly to 42.95 euros in early Paris trading.