Total CEO Christophe de Margerie. Image courtesy of Youth Diplomacy/Youtube.

Total CEO Christophe de Margerie died Monday night when a corporate jet he was riding in collided with a snowplow on a Moscow runway.

Russian investigators said the unnamed driver of the snowplow was drunk.

The jet hit the snowplow and went up in flames as it prepared to take off from Vnukovo airport around midnight local time.

The three crew members on board were also killed.

The driver of the snowplow survived.

The driver’s lawyer has denied accusations that he was drunk at the time of the accident.

Moscow transportation investigators opened a criminal investigation into possible breaches of safety rules and negligence.

French officials sent three experts to aid in Moscow’s investigation and are also opening a manslaughter investigation.

The jet’s black box has been recovered for examination.

De Margerie was in Russia to attend a government meeting on foreign investment in Gorki and had met with Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev at his country home just hours before the crash.

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences for the loss.

“We have lost a genuine friend of our country,” Putin said.

De Margerie, 63, served at France’s Total for 40 years, beginning his career at the company’s finance unit.

He was appointed chief executive in 2007 and chairman in 2010.

Total’s reserves saw their largest expansion in nearly two decades under De Margerie’s leadership.

“France is losing an extraordinary business leader who turned Total into a world giant,” French prime minister Manuel Valls said.

De Margerie was a vocal advocate for the Russian energy sector and spearheaded numerous international projects for Total.

Earlier this year, he negotiated the company’s entrance into the Russian shale sector by establishing a joint venture with Lukoil.

De Margerie also oversaw Total’s participation in the $20 billion Yamal LNG project Russia’s Novatek and China’s CNPC.

In July he told Reuters that the EU should focus on making deliveries from Russia safer rather than cutting its ties with the country.

Total projects that Russia will become its largest source of oil and gas by 2020.

However, the company had to suspend its Lukoil shale joint venture in September to comply with EU and U.S. sanctions against Russia.

The company still expects that the Yamal LNG joint venture project will be allowed to continue operations despite the sanctions.

Nicknamed the “Big Mustache,” de Margerie was known for his joviality and passion for the industry.

“He was very much a man who thought about what was going to happen down the road. He was a man of great vitality and charm, a statesman who would speak his mind, though with verve and humor,” historian Daniel Yergin told Bloomberg.

Total’s board will meet as soon as possible to discuss appointing a new CEO.


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