July 26, 2000
113 dead in Concorde Crash
The Associated Press
GONESSE, France -- The
Concorde that crashed and killed 113 people during takeoff had been
delayed for last-minute maintenance on one of its engines, Air France
said Wednesday as its fleet of supersonic jets was indefinitely
In a statement, Air France said it had
taken a replacement part from a backup Concorde to repair one of
the doomed plane's engines before Tuesday's crash. Investigators,
meanwhile, said the pilot reported engine trouble seconds after
takeoff and tried to find a spot to land before the plane plummeted
to the ground in flames.
That information was released Wednesday
as French forensic experts examined the charred bodies to determine
their identities and as relatives of the victims, mainly
German tourists, began arriving in Paris.
"Today Germany is shaken," Chancellor
Gerhard Schroeder said at a service for the victims at a chapel
in Hanover, Germany, on the grounds of the World's Fair. Pope John
Paul II sent condolences. In France, President Jacques Chirac said
"everything" would be done to determine the causes of
the accident. Air France said the crash of Flight AF4590 appeared
to have been caused by a fire in one of the engines at the moment
of takeoff. Possible causes of the fire ranged from birds flying
into the air intake to mechanical failure, experts said. Prosecutor
Elisabeth Senot, who is in charge of the judicial investigation,
said the control tower alerted the pilot that the back of the plane
was on fire 56 seconds after takeoff. The pilot replied that he
had engine trouble, at which point the flames were rapidly growing,
France 2 televsion quoted Senot as saying.
The pilot responded that he could not stop
the flight and was trying to reach Le Bourget, a nearby airport.
"It is during this looping maneuver that the aircraft crashed
on the hotel in Gonesse," France 2 quoted Senot as saying.
In a statement, the airline said the "engine
reverse thruster" of engine 2 of the doomed plane was inoperative
on its return from New York on July 24. Such thrusters are used
to slow the plane upon landing.
Although the required piece was not available,
Flight AF4590 was cleared for departure because of a technical level
of tolerance allowed by the manufacturer, Air France said. However,
the pilot, taking into account that the plane was full, ordered
the replacement of the inoperative part, the statement said.
The statement did not indicate whether the
last-minute repair could have been related to the catastrophe.
French Transport Minister Jean-Claude Gayssot
on Wednesday ordered the indefinite suspension of all Air France
Concorde flights. He said he wanted more checks, with an emphasis
on the recovered black boxes -- the flight
recorders and cockpit voice recorder.
"When we know a sufficient amount
about them, and when we're in touch with our British colleagues,
we will be able to consider the decision to resume," he said.
However, he said the future of the Concorde was "not in question."
The Ministry of Transportation said
the two recorders were damaged but had been found.
Air France already had grounded all Concorde
flights Wednesday. British Airways canceled its two Tuesday night
flights, but resumed Concorde service Wednesday between New York
and London after completing safety checks. French
media speculated on whether this marked the end of the swooping
"white bird," a source of French pride. The daily Le Figaro
wrote, "The Concorde without a doubt died yesterday."
Until Tuesday, the Concorde had a perfect
during 31 years of service. At least one
of the two left-side engines was on fire as the plane took off at
4:44 p.m. from Charles de Gaulle airport carrying 100 passengers
and 9 crew members, witnesses said. As the jet struggled to gain
height, witnesses saw a plume of flame trailing 60 yards behind
All those aboard perished, along with four
people on the ground. Twelve people were rushed out of Hotelissimo,
the hotel that was hit. One was seriously injured, police said early
Wednesday. A neighboring hotel was damaged.
But the toll on the ground could have been
much worse: 45 Polish tourists who were staying at Hotelissimo had
left earlier to go sightseeing. They returned after the crash to
find an inferno where their hotel once stood.
Ninety-six of the passengers on board the
Concorde were from Germany -- 13 from the town of Moenchengladbach,
on the border with the Netherlands. There were also two Danes, one
Austrian and one American. The American
was a retired Air France employee, but the company did not release
The victims on the ground included
two Polish hotel employees, the Polish Consulate in Paris confirmed.
Television reports said the other two were a British tourist and
a French woman. Authorities said 81 bodies had been taken away for
autopsies by Wednesday morning.
The Concorde passengers were headed for
New York, then on to a
luxury voyage through the Caribbean. But the dream vacation ended
in a nightmare of flame and black smoke at Gonesse, a small town
near Charles de Gaulle airport about nine miles northeast of the
"We saw flames shoot up 40 meters
(120 feet) and there was a huge boom," said Samir Hossein,
a 15-year-old student from Gonesse who was playing tennis. "The
pilot tried to yank it up, but it was too late."
The crash did not appear to be linked
to cracks found recently in both British Airways and Air France
Concordes. "There were no hairline cracks in this Concorde,"
Air France said.
The plane, full of fuel on takeoff
for the Atlantic run, had been in service since 1980 and had flown
12,000 hours. It had its last mandatory regulatory checkup July
Twelve of the needle-nosed supersonic jetliners
are still operated by Air France and British Airways.
The Concorde, which first flew in
1969, has been considered among the world's safest planes. Air France
officials had said in the past that their current fleet is fit to
fly safely until 2007.
The plane, which crosses the Atlantic
at 1,350 mph, is popular with celebrities, world-class athletes
and the rich. It flies above turbulence at nearly 60,000 feet, crossing
the Atlantic in about 3½ hours.
Copyright 2000 Associated Press.
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