By Thierry Leveque
PARIS (Reuters) - European planemaker Airbus was placed under investigation on Thursday for the 2009 crash of a flight between Rio de Janeiro and Paris that killed 228 people, Airbus Chief Executive Thomas Enders said.
Investigators are trying to establish why the Airbus 330 plane, operated by Air France, plunged into the Atlantic during a storm on the night of May 31, 2009, killing passengers from 32 nations, including 72 French citizens.
An investigating judge informed Enders and the company's lawyers that Airbus was being officially placed under investigation at a meeting in Paris's palace of justice.
"We strongly disapprove of this decision. We think that it is at least premature," Enders said. "I would like to confirm that we nevertheless support the investigation."
"We will particularly support the search for the black boxes, because we are convinced only if we find these black boxes can we reconstruct what really happened on this tragic flight Air France 447," he said.
Air France Chief Executive Pierre-Henri Gourgeon has been summoned to appear before the judge on Friday. The company is also expected to be placed under investigation.
A series of search operations in the Atlantic, the fourth since the crash, are scheduled for March 20 along the Brazilian coast. The 9 million euros cost will be covered by Airbus and Air France.
In the wake of the crash, searchers found tail fins from the plane and some 50 bodies. Subsequent searches using submarine robots have failed to find either the wreck of the plane or its black box.
"We do not know on what the decision to place Airbus under investigation is founded," said Simon Ndiaye, a lawyer for the company. "It is not justified since there is no information which allows us to say today what happened."
In December, a French court ordered EADS to pay 30 percent of any damages to families of those who died in a 2000 Concorde crash. Airbus parent EADS now owns the French factories that partly built the Concorde airliner.
The court found Continental Airlines and a mechanic at the airline guilty of involuntary manslaughter for their part in the 2000 crash.
(Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Will Waterman)