Flight 4590 during takeoff
|Date||25 July 2000|
|Summary||Foreign object damage caused by mechanical failure on DC-10, leading to in-flight fire and loss of control|
|Total fatalities||113 (109 on the aircraft, 4 on the ground)|
Concorde F-BTSC, the aircraft involved, seen at Charles de Gaulle Airport in 1985
|Flight origin||Charles de Gaulle Airport|
|Destination||John F. Kennedy International Airport|
The DC-10 involved, seen here some years before the accident, operated by Eastern Airlines at London Gatwick Airport.
|Type||McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30|
|Flight origin||Charles de Gaulle Airport|
|Destination||Newark International Airport|
Air France Flight 4590 was an international charter flight from Paris to New York City, on the Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde. On 25 July 2000, at time 16:43 CET, the aircraft serving the flight (registration F-BTSC) ran over debris on the runway during takeoff, blowing a tyre and puncturing a fuel tank; the subsequent fire and engine failure caused the aircraft to crash into a hotel in nearby Gonesse two minutes after takeoff, killing all 109 (100 passengers and nine crew) aboard and four in the hotel, with another person in the hotel being critically injured.
The flight was chartered by German company Peter Deilmann Cruises, and the passengers were on their way to board the cruise ship MS Deutschland in New York City for a 16-day cruise to Manta, Ecuador. This was the only fatal Concorde accident during its 27-year operational history.
Post-accident investigation revealed that the aircraft was at or over the maximum takeoff weight for ambient temperature and other conditions, and 810 kilograms (1,790 lb) over the maximum structural weight.[BEA 1] As it left the gate, it was loaded such that the centre of gravity was aft of the take-off limit.[BEA 2] Fuel transfer during taxiing left the number-five wing tank 94% full.[BEA 3] A 12-inch spacer that normally keeps the left main landing gear in alignment had not been replaced after recent maintenance; however, the French Bureau for Aircraft Accident Investigation concluded that this did not contribute to the accident.[BEA 4] The wind at the airport was light and variable that day, and was reported to the cockpit crew as an eight knot tailwind as they lined up on runway 26R.
Five minutes before the Concorde departed, a Continental Airlines DC-10 heading for Newark, New Jersey took off from the same runway and lost a titanium alloy strip (part of the engine cowl, identified as a wear strip) that was about 435 millimetres (17.1 in) long, 29 to 34 millimetres (1.1 to 1.3 in) wide and 1.4 millimetres (0.055 in) thick.[BEA 5]
During the Concorde's takeoff run, it ran over this piece of debris, cutting a tyre and sending a large chunk of tyre debris (4.5 kilograms or 9.9 pounds) into the underside of the aircraft's wing at an estimated speed of 140 metres per second (310 mph). Although it did not directly puncture any of the fuel tanks, it sent out a pressure shockwave that ruptured the number-five fuel tank at the weakest point, just above the undercarriage. Leaking fuel gushing out from the bottom of the wing was most likely ignited by an electric arc in the landing gear bay (debris cutting the landing gear wire) or through contact with hot parts of the engine.[BEA 6] Engines one and two both surged and lost all power, but engine one slowly recovered over the next few seconds.[BEA 7] A large plume of flame developed; the flight engineer then shut down engine two in response to a fire warning and the captain's command.[BEA 8]
Air traffic controller Gilles Logelin noticed the flames before the Concorde was airborne, and informed the flight crew.[BEA 9] Having passed V1 speed, the crew continued the takeoff, but the plane did not gain enough airspeed with the three remaining engines, because damage to the landing gear bay door prevented the retraction of the undercarriage.[BEA 10] The aircraft was unable to climb or accelerate, and its speed decayed during the course of its brief flight. The fire caused damage to the port wing, which began to disintegrate--melted by the extremely high temperatures. Engine number one surged again, but this time failed to recover. Due to the asymmetric thrust, the starboard wing lifted, banking the aircraft to over 100 degrees. The crew reduced the power on engines three and four in an attempt to level the aircraft, but with falling airspeed, they lost control and the aircraft stalled, crashing into the Hôtelissimo Les Relais Bleus Hotel near the airport.
The crew was trying to divert to nearby Paris-Le Bourget Airport, but accident investigators stated that a safe landing, given the aircraft's flight path, would have been highly unlikely.
All the passengers and crew, and four employees of the Hotelissimo hotel, were killed in the incident. Most of the passengers were German tourists en route to New York for a cruise. The cockpit crew consisted of pilot Captain Christian Marty, 54, First Officer Jean Marcot, 50, and Flight Engineer Gilles Jardinaud, 58.[BEA 11]
Until the crash of Air France Flight 4590 in 2000, the Concorde SST had been considered among the world's safest planes. The crash of the Concorde contributed to the end of the aircraft's career.
A few days after the crash, all Concordes were grounded, pending an investigation into the cause of the crash and possible remedies.
Air France's Concorde operation had been a money-losing venture, but it is claimed that the aeroplane had been kept in service as a matter of national pride;British Airways, however, claimed to make a profit on its Concorde operations. According to Jock Lowe, a Concorde pilot, up until the crash of Air France Flight 4590 at Paris, the British Airways Concorde operation made a net average profit of about £30m a year. Commercial service was resumed in November 2001 after a £17m safety improvement service, until the remaining aircraft were retired in 2003.
The investigators concluded that:
In November 1981, the American National Transportation Safety Board sent a letter of concern to the French BEA that included safety recommendations for Concorde. This communiqué was the result of the NTSB's investigations of four Air France Concorde incidents during a 20-month period from through to . The NTSB described those incidents as "potentially catastrophic," because they were caused by blown tyres during takeoff. The NTSB also expressed concern about the lack of adequate remedies on the part of the French, as well as improper crew responses to those incidents.[not in citation given] During its 27 years in service, Concorde had about 70 tyre- or wheel-related incidents, 7 of which caused serious damage to the aircraft or were potentially catastrophic.
Because it is a tailless delta-wing aircraft, Concorde cannot use the normal flaps or slats to assist takeoff and landing, and requires a significantly higher air and tyre speed during the takeoff roll than an average airliner. That higher speed increased the risk of tyre explosion during takeoff. When the tyres did explode, much greater kinetic energy was carried by the resulting fragments, increasing the risk of serious damage to the aircraft. A thicker skin on the bottom side of the wings could have prevented serious damage from an exploding tyre, but that would have added too much weight, therefore requiring an even higher speed to become airborne.
The accident led to modifications being made to Concorde, including more secure electrical controls, Kevlar lining to the fuel tanks, and specially developed, burst-resistant tyres. The new-style tyres would be another contribution to future aircraft development.
The crash of the Air France Concorde nonetheless proved to be the beginning of the end for the type. Just before service resumed, the 11 September attacks took place, resulting in a marked drop in passenger numbers, and contributing to the eventual end of Concorde flights. Air France stopped flights in , while British Airways ended its Concorde flights in .
In June 2010, two groups attempted, unsuccessfully, to revive Concorde for "Heritage" flights in time for the 2012 Olympics. The British Save Concorde Group, SCG, and French group Olympus 593 were attempting to get four Rolls-Royce Olympus engines at Le Bourget Air and Space Museum.
French authorities began a criminal investigation of Continental Airlines, whose plane dropped the debris on the runway, in March 2005, and in September of that year, Henri Perrier, the former chief engineer of the Concorde division at Aérospatiale at the time of the first test flight in 1969 and the programme director in the 1980s and early 1990s, was placed under formal investigation.
In March 2008, Bernard Farret, a deputy prosecutor in Pontoise, outside Paris, asked judges to bring manslaughter charges against Continental Airlines and two of its employees - John Taylor, the mechanic who replaced the wear strip on the DC-10, and his manager Stanley Ford - alleging negligence in the way the repair was carried out. Continental denied the charges, and claimed in court that it was being used as a scapegoat by the BEA. The airline suggested that the Concorde "was already on fire when its wheels hit the titanium strip, and that around 20 first-hand witnesses had confirmed that the plane seemed to be on fire immediately after it began its take-off roll".
At the same time charges were laid against Henri Perrier, head of the Concorde program at Aérospatiale, Jacques Hérubel, Concorde's chief engineer, and Claude Frantzen, head of DGAC, the French airline regulator. It was alleged that Perrier, Hérubel and Frantzen knew that the plane's fuel tanks could be susceptible to damage from foreign objects, but nonetheless allowed it to fly.
The trial ran in a Parisian court from February to December 2010. Continental Airlines was found criminally responsible for the disaster and was fined EUR200,000 ($271,628) and ordered to pay Air France . Taylor was given a 15-month suspended sentence, while Ford, Perrier, Hérubel and Frantzen were cleared of all charges. The court ruled that the crash resulted from a piece of metal from a Continental jet that was left on the runway; the object punctured a tyre on the Concorde and then ruptured a fuel tank. The convictions were overturned by a French appeals court in November 2012, thereby clearing Continental and Taylor of criminal responsibility.
The Parisian court also ruled that Continental would have to pay 70% of any compensation claims. As Air France has paid out to the families of the victims, Continental could be made to pay its share of that compensation payout. The French appeals court, while overturning the criminal rulings by the Parisian court, affirmed the civil ruling and left Continental liable for the compensation claims.
British investigators and former French Concorde pilots looked at two factors that the BEA found to be of negligible consequence: an unbalanced weight distribution in the fuel tanks and loose landing gear. They came to the conclusion that the Concorde veered off course on the runway, which reduced takeoff speed below the crucial minimum. John Hutchinson, who had served as a Concorde captain for 15 years with British Airways, said that "the fire on its own should have been 'eminently survivable; the pilot should have been able to fly his way out of trouble'", had it not been for a "lethal combination of operational error and 'negligence' by the maintenance department of Air France" that "nobody wants to talk about".
The Concorde had veered close to an Air France Boeing 747 carrying then-French President Jacques Chirac who was returning from the 26th G8 summit meeting in Okinawa, Japan, which was much further down the runway than the Concorde's usual takeoff point; only then did it strike the metal strip from the DC-10.
The Concorde was missing the crucial spacer from the left main landing gear beam that would have made for a snug-fitting pivot. This compromised the alignment of the landing gear and the wobbling beam and gears allowing three degrees of movement possible in any direction. The uneven load on the left leg's three remaining tyres skewed the landing gear, with the scuff marks of four tyres on the runway showing that the plane was veering to the left. Air France found out that its maintenance staff had not replaced or renewed the spacer, which was found in a workshop after the crash.
One monument in honour of the crash victims was established at Gonesse. The Gonesse monument consists of a piece of transparent glass with a piece of an aircraft wing jutting through. Another monument, a 6,000-square-metre (65,000 sq ft) memorial topiary in the shape of a Concorde, was established in 2006 at Mitry-Mory.
A French magistrate on Thursday opened a formal investigation of Continental Airlines for manslaughter for the suspected role played by one of its jets in the July 2000 crash of the supersonic Concorde that killed 113 people. Investigating judge Christophe Regnard placed Continental under investigation--a step short of being formally charged--for manslaughter and involuntary injury, judicial officials said.
The five accused are: John Taylor, the Continental mechanic who allegedly fitted the metal strip to the DC-10, and Stanley Ford, a maintenance official from the airline; Henri Perrier, a former head of the Concorde division at Aerospatiale, now part of the aerospace company EADS, and Concorde's former chief engineer Jacques Herubel; Claude Frantzen, a former member of France's civil aviation watchdog