On This Day

Air France Flight 4590, Concorde Crash, Air France Flight 4590 crash
Toshihiko Sato/AP
Concorde Flight 4590 takes off with fire trailing from its engine on the left wing, July 25, 2000.

On This Day: Air France Concorde Flight Crashes, Killing 113

July 25, 2011 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On July 25, 2000, a Concorde commercial flight carrying 109 people caught fire during takeoff and crashed, hitting a hotel and killing four others.

Titanium Shard Causes Concorde Crash

Air France Flight 4590, a Concorde flight carrying German tourists on their way to a cruise, was scheduled to bring its 109 passengers and crewmembers from Paris to New York in three and half hours. At 4:42 p.m., on July 27, 2000, air traffic controllers cleared the flight for takeoff.

As the supersonic plane accelerated, its front right wheel struck a 16-inch titanium shard that had fallen off a Continental Airlines flight that took off minutes before. Tire debris scattered, rupturing a fuel tank and sparking a fire.

Air traffic control immediately notified pilots that the plane was on fire, but, at over 200 miles per hour, the plane was traveling too fast to abort the takeoff. The pilots were forced to increase speed and take off, but the landing gear would not retract.

The co-pilot radioed that they would attempt to land at nearby Le Bourget Airport, but it was impossible to control the flaming jet. “With the gear down and dragging on the plane’s aerodynamics, and with two engines apparently failing, the Concorde’s fate was sealed,” Time wrote.

Little over a minute after leaving the ground, the Concorde crashed into a small hotel about four miles from the runway, and its 30,000 gallons of fuel ignited immediately. All 109 people on board were killed, as were four people in the hotel.

The Investigation and Grounding of the Concorde

Immediately after the crash Air France grounded its five remaining Concorde jets. British Airways soon followed, suspending flights for its seven jets. In August 2000, aviation regulators in France and Britain withdrew certification for the Concorde, ordering that there be improvements made to the tires and other parts of the planes.

The investigation by the French aviation safety agency, the BEA, concluded with a final report released in December 2004. It determined that the crash was caused by the Continental flight’s fallen piece of titanium, which had not been approved by authorities.

After adjustments were made to the tires, electrical controls and fuel tanks, the Concordes were cleared to return to the skies. However, following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, there was a decline in air travel. In 2003, Air France and BA decided to retires the Concorde jets for economic reasons.

History of the Concorde

The Concorde traveled at speeds of 1,350 miles per hour (twice the speed of sound) at altitudes of 60,000 feet. With round-trip fare across the Atlantic costing upward of $10,000, a trip on the Concorde was a symbol of prestige.

“Hailed for its beauty as well as its speed, Concorde seemed to belong less to the modern world than to the future,” writes the Design Museum.

It was the product of a joint effort starting in 1962 between Britain and France to build the world’s first supersonic passenger airline. The first commercial flights were made in January 1976, with two jets flying simultaneously from London and Paris.

Just 20 Concordes would ever be built, with 14 used commercially by Air France and British Airways. Before the 2000 crash, it had an exemplary safety record, having no fatal incidents since its 1976 debut.

Charges Against Continental, Mechanic

In February 2010, Continental Airlines and five people went on trial in France on charges of manslaughter for the 2000 crash. The individuals accused included Henri Perrier, the former head of the Concorde program, a second man from Concorde manufacturer Aerospatiale, a member of a French aviation agency, and a mechanic and maintenance official with Continental responsible for attaching the titanium piece to the plane.

In December, the court found Continental and mechanic John Taylor guilty of involuntary manslaughter, imposing fines on both parties and sentencing Taylor to 15 months in prison, a decision that he is appealing. Perrier and the other defendants were acquitted.

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