Concorde Crashes Near Paris

photo: bistro, l'amuse bouche

Closed for August, or just closed for the day?

Disaster Due To Multiple Causes

Paris:- Sunday, 30. July 2000:- Every day around the world thousands of aircraft take off and land without incident. Takeoffs and landing are the critical times for aircraft flights, and every normal flight has one of each of these operations.

Last Tuesday, Air France's Concorde flight 4590 did not complete its takeoff successfully, which condemned it to fail its landing completely.

Given the start signal by air controllers at Paris' Charles-de-Gaulle airport at Roissy at 16:40, the Concorde with its crew of nine and 100 passengers, and four people on the ground were killed when the aircraft fell out of the sky at 16:43.

It was the first crash involving a Concorde, which was test-flown for the first time in 1969. The aircraft went into commercial service in 1973 and is still operated by Air France and British Airways.

Possible Causes of the Crash

Tonight on France-2 TV-news, the head of France's 'BEA' civil aviation investigation service, advanced a possible scenario of events that led to the crash of the Concorde.

On takeoff, before the plane left the runway, two tires out of the four comprising the left-side landing gear, came apart.

The hypothesis is that the exploding tires, wheels, or partsphoto: cafe du chateau, open of the landing gear, projected a piece of something which pierced the fuel tank in the left wing, causing the kerosene fuel to escape.

The Café du Château, open last Wednesday, but closed for August?

At nearly the same time, the pilot detected and reported a 'problem' with the left inboard motor number two. One of the flight recorders also has indicated that the left outboard motor number one was operating irregularly.

As the tower alerted the pilot to a jet of flame coming from the left wing, the aircraft reached its no-stop speed and took off.

But, fully loaded and tanked, with two engines on one side functioning poorly or not at all, the aircraft could not gain speed or climb.

Either the pilots tried to steer towards an emergency landing at Le Bourget, or the two right-wing motors forced the aircraft in this direction. Either way, the airspeed was too low to control the aircraft.

The Aircraft

This particular Concorde, lettercoded 'BTSC,' was completely rebuilt in September of 1999. Not a mere overhaul, the entire core piece of the airplane was replaced. Since it began flying 20 years ago it has recorded 12,000 hours of flight time.

On Friday, 21. July the plane received a routine overhaul. Just before Tuesday's scheduled takeoff, the pilot asked for the replacement of a thrust-reversal pump. This repair caused a 30 minute delay in takeoff, but is thought to have had no effect on later events.

As old as the flying Concordes are, they are still technical marvels, capable of flying at a speed of Mach-2.

While operating at a cruising altitude of 18,000 metres where the air temperature is -55 C, thephoto: pompidou, ford 021C car friction caused by airplane's speed heats the Concorde's aluminum-alloy surface to 120 C - which causes the plane to stretch 20 centimetres.

Modern design at the Pompidou Centre - open all summer.

The Concorde weighs 185 tons when it is fully tanked with 90 tons of kerosene. Its four Rolls Royce-Snecma 0lympus 593 turbojets propel the aircraft at nearly 600 metres per second.

For each hour of flight, Concordes typically receive 14 to 18 hours of maintenance, which is about 15 times more than necessary for an Airbus.

Foreseen to carry out 6700 flights each, their life has been extended to 8500 flights. Each of Air France's Concordes has been scheduled for the complete rebuild like the Concorde 'BTSC' which takes nine months. Air France wants to extend their commercial life to 2020.

The Passengers

Air France's Concorde flight 4590 was chartered by a German tour operator as part of a 15-day voyage. Flown from Frankfurt, the passengers boarded the Concorde at Charles-de-Gaulle airport for its flight to New York.

There, they were to embark on the luxury passenger ship 'MS Deutschland' for a cruise down the coast of the United States, with stops in Port Canaveral and then going on to Nassau, Havana, and Mexico, before going through the Panama Canal, to complete the voyage at Manta in Ecuador.

Ninety-six of the passengers were German nationals, two were Danish and there was one Austrian and one American on board the fatal Concorde flight.

The Crash Site

The Concorde crashed practically on top of the Hotel Hôtelissimo, beside the National 17 highway just to the northeast of the town of Gonesse. This is about four kilometres from the end of the runway at the airport.

The hotel was set on fire and four of its employees perished. The manageress was injured, though not seriously. Alice Brooking, a student staying in the hotel was talking to her sister on the phone when the Concorde came down.

She opened her room's door to see the hallway in flames. Without hesitating, she jumped out of her room's window, which was one story above the ground. Debris was falling about her as she made her way through the smoke to the nearest road.

At 17:00, 50 teenage members of a British jazz band - invited to perform at five concerts in Paris - were expected to arrive at the hotel. They did, after the crash.

Remembrance Services

Services were held during the rest of the week; in the Jacques-Brel community hall in Gonesse andphoto: boulangerie, open in the church of the Christus-Pavillon at the exposition in Hannover.

At Air France headquarters at Charles-de-Gaulle on Friday, 8000 Air France employees gathered to offer a final goodbye to their comrades.

Open the last week in July; in August, who knows?

On Friday, the inhabitants of Gonesse walked in silence to the scene of the accident, to pose bouquets, while passenger planes taking off from nearby Charles-de-Gaulle roared over their heads at 90-second intervals.

Paris Airports

The tragic crash of the Concorde last Tuesday re-ignited long-standing discussions about airports in the Paris region. For years, authorities have been trying to fix a location for a third airport. For all of their proposals, there is no public support.

While the Charles-de-Gaulle airport at Roissy was built in a low population area northeast of Paris some years ago, suburbs have grown around towns that -initially - were not directly under its flight paths.

The currently proposed extension of Roissy, as it is known here, directly affects the town of Goussainville, which is only a few kilometres to the north of Gonesse.

The population is still fairly low to the east of the airport, but most takeoffs are to the west - into the prevailing westerly winds.

Orly airport, almost directly south of Paris; is much older and is completely hemmed-in by urbanization. Many kilometres away, slightly to the southwest, flights can be annoying on Sundays as charter planes pass frequently over the southern edge of the Chevreuse valley.

Media Coverage of the Crash

There are plane crashes but there are very few Concorde crashes. As the media scrambled to the scene of the disaster last Tuesday, extensive video coverage of the crash scene was shown on the evening's main TV-news shows at 20:00.

However, the Concorde - as an almost mythical aircraft - has always fascinated amateur photographers. Photos and videos of the actual take-off, showing the Concorde trailingphoto: rue lecourbe, open a torch of flame, were captured by several.

One such shot was on the front page of Wednesday's Le Parisien - and probably many of the world's newspapers. Since then, many more photos and videos have surfaced.

The Rue Lecourbe, open all year but pretty quiet in August.

These images have been useful for the media, but they are invaluable for the crash's investigators. Between still shots and videos, there is an almost non-stop image record of the whole flight.

Together with the Concorde's two flight recorders, the investigators have been much more rapid than usual in formulating plausible causes of the crash. All the same, they are still collecting all the pieces of the aircraft, in order to offer the most complete explanation possible.

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