Flight 4590 during takeoff
|Date||25 July 2000|
|Summary||Foreign object damage leading to in-flight fire and loss of control|
|Site||Gonesse (near Charles de Gaulle Airport), France |
|Total fatalities||113 (109 on the aircraft, 4 on the ground)|
|Total injuries||1 (on ground)|
F-BTSC, the Concorde involved in the accident, photographed in July 1985
|Flight origin||Charles de Gaulle Airport|
|Destination||John F. Kennedy International Airport|
N13067, the DC-10 involved, seen before the accident while flying with Eastern Airlines
|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 Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris to John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York, flown by an Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde. On 25 July 2000 at 15:43 UTC, 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 people aboard and four more people in the hotel, with another person in the hotel 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. It was the only fatal Concorde accident during its 27-year operational history.
The aircraft involved was a 25-year old Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde (registration F-BTSC, serial number 203) that had its maiden flight on 31 January 1975 (during testing the aircraft's registration was F-WTSC). The aircraft was purchased by Air France on 6 January 1976. It was powered by four Rolls-Royce Olympus 593/610 turbojet engines, each of which were equipped with afterburners. The aircraft's last scheduled repair took place on 21 July 2000, four days before the accident; no problems were reported during the repair. At the time of the crash, the aircraft had flown for 11,989 hours and had made 4,873 take-off and landing cycles.:21-35
Post-accident investigation revealed that the aircraft was over the maximum takeoff weight for ambient temperature and other conditions, and 810 kg (1,790 lb) over the maximum structural weight,:32,159[BEA 1][BEA 2] loaded so that the centre of gravity was aft of the take-off limit.:159 Fuel transfer during taxiing left the number 5 wing tank 94 percent full.:118[BEA 3] A 30-centimetre (12 in) spacer normally keeps the left main landing gear in alignment, but it had not been replaced after recent maintenance; the Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la Sécurité de l'Aviation Civile (BEA) concluded that this did not contribute to the accident.:155[BEA 4] The wind at the airport was light and variable that day, and was reported to the cockpit crew as an eight-knot (15 km/h; 9 mph) tailwind as they lined up on runway 26R.:17,170
Five minutes before the Concorde departed, a Continental Airlines McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 took off from the same runway for Newark International Airport and lost a titanium alloy strip that was part of the engine cowl, identified as a wear strip 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.:17,107 The Concorde ran over this piece of debris during its take-off run, cutting the right front tyre (tyre No 2) and sending a large chunk of tyre debris (4.5 kilograms or 9.9 pounds) into the underside of the left wing at an estimated speed of 140 metres per second (310 mph).:115 It did not directly puncture any of the fuel tanks, but it sent out a pressure shockwave that ruptured the number 5 fuel tank at the weakest point, just above the undercarriage. Leaking fuel gushing out from the bottom of the wing was most likely ignited either by an electric arc in the landing gear bay (debris cutting the landing gear wire) or through contact with hot parts of the engine.:120-123 Engines 1 and 2 both surged and lost all power, then engine 1 slowly recovered over the next few seconds.:17 A large plume of flame developed, and the flight engineer shut down engine 2 in response to a fire warning and the captain's command.:166[BEA 5]
Air traffic controller Gilles Logelin noticed the flames before the Concorde was airborne and informed the flight crew.:17 However, the aircraft had passed V1 speed, at which point takeoff is considered unsafe to abort. The plane did not gain enough airspeed with the three remaining engines as damage to the landing gear bay door prevented the retraction of the undercarriage.:134-135 The aircraft was unable to climb or accelerate, and its speed decayed during the course of its brief flight.:33-37 The fire caused damage to the port wing and it began to disintegrate, melted by the extremely high temperatures. Engine number 1 surged again, but this time failed to recover, and the starboard wing lifted from the asymmetrical thrust, 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 they lost control due to falling speed and the aircraft stalled, crashing into the Hôtelissimo Les Relais Bleus Hotel. The hotel is near the airport and adjacent to an intersection known as La Patte d'Oie de Gonesse (the Goose Foot of Gonesse) for its radiating roads D902 and D317.
The crew was trying to divert to nearby Paris-Le Bourget Airport, but accident investigators stated that a safe landing would have been highly unlikely, given the aircraft's flightpath. The cockpit voice recorder (CVR) recorded the last intelligible words in the cockpit (translated into English):
Co-pilot: "Le Bourget, Le Bourget."
Pilot: "Too late (unclear)."
Control tower: "Fire service leader, correction, the Concorde is returning to runway zero nine in the opposite direction."
Pilot: "No time, no (unclear)."
Co-pilot: "Negative, we're trying Le Bourget" (four switching sounds).
Co-pilot: "No (unclear)."
Control tower: "De Gaulle tower from fire service leader, can you give me the situation of the Concorde?"
Pilot: (unclear, sounds like exertion)
End of recording
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, and it is claimed that the aeroplane had been kept in service as a matter of national pride;British Airways claimed to make a profit on its Concorde operations. According to Jock Lowe, a Concorde pilot, until the crash of Air France Flight 4590 at Paris, the British Airways Concorde operation made a net average profit of about £30M (equivalent to £50M today) a year. Commercial service was resumed in November 2001 after a £17M (£28M today) safety improvement service, until the type was retired in 2003.
The official investigation was conducted by France's accident investigation bureau, the BEA, and the final report was issued on 2002.
The BEA concluded that:
Two factors that the BEA found to be of negligible consequence to the crash, an unbalanced weight distribution in the fuel tanks and loose landing gear, were re-evaluated by British investigators and former French Concorde pilots. They accused Air France of negligence because they concluded these factors caused the aircraft to veer off course on the runway reducing its takeoff speed to below the critical minimum. 
Air France had discovered that its maintenance staff had not replaced or renewed a spacer in one of the four tyres in the rear left landing gear (it was found in a workshop after the crash). This skewed the alignment of the landing gear because a strut was able to wobble in any direction with 3° of movement. The problem was exacerbated on the left gear's three remaining tyres by the uneven fuel load. Drag marks left on the runway by the left rear landing wheels show the Concorde was veering to the left as it accelerated towards takeoff.
Due to the veer, the Concorde travelled further down the down the runway than normal because it was failing to gain sufficient takeoff speed. It was after it had passed its usual takeoff point on the runway that it struck the metal strip from the DC-10.
In November 1981, the American National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) 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 to . The NTSB described those incidents as "potentially catastrophic," because they were caused by blown tyres during takeoff. During its 27 years in service, Concorde had about 70 tyre- or wheel-related incidents, seven of which caused serious damage to the aircraft or were potentially catastrophic.
Because it is a tailless delta-wing aircraft, Concorde could not use the normal flaps or slats to assist takeoff and landing, and required 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.
The crash of the Air France Concorde nonetheless proved to be the beginning of the end for the type. Just before service resumed, the September 11 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 , and 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 that September, 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. It 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.
A 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 surrounded with topiary planted in the shape of a Concorde, was established in 2006 at Mitry-Mory, just south of Charles de Gaulle Airport.
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