Air France Flight 4590
|Date||25 July 2000|
|Summary||Crashed following debris strike and in-flight fire|
|Site||Gonesse, France |
|Aircraft type||Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde|
|Operator||Air France on behalf of Peter Deilmann Cruises|
|Flight origin||Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris, France|
|Destination||John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York City, United States|
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 the afternoon of Tuesday, 25 July 2000, at 16:44:31 local time (UTC 14:44:31), the aircraft serving the flight (registration F-BTSC) ran over debris on the runway during takeoff, blowing a tyre, and sending debris flying into the underside of the left wing, and into the landing gear bay.
The fuel tank inside the left wing was full, and the resulting lack of air space in the tank caused it to rupture and send fuel pouring outward with great force when debris from the tyre struck the wing thus creating a shock wave that weakened the tank. Debris flew into the landing gear bay and severed power wiring, making it impossible to retract the gear as the aircraft climbed. Sparks produced by the broken wiring ignited fuel from the ruptured fuel tank. The fire reduced thrust in engines 1 and 2. Lack of thrust, the high drag caused by the inability to retract the gear, and fire damage to the flight controls made the aircraft impossible to control. It crashed into a hotel in nearby Gonesse two minutes after takeoff, killing all 109 people on board and four people in the hotel, and critically injuring six people in the hotel.
The flight was chartered by German company Peter Deilmann Cruises. 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.
Aircraft and crew
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 was 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 
- Captain Christian Marty (age 54), who had been with Air France since 1967. He had 13,477 flight hours, including 317 hours on the Concorde. Marty had also flown the Boeing 727, 737, Airbus A300, A320, and A340 aircraft.
- First officer Jean Marcot (50), who had been with Air France since 1971 and had 10,035 flight hours, with 2,698 of them on the Concorde. He had also flown the Aérospatiale N 262, Morane-Saulnier MS.760 Paris, Sud Aviation Caravelle and Airbus A300 aircraft.
- Flight engineer Gilles Jardinaud (58), who had been with Air France since 1968. He had 12,532 flight hours, of which 937 were on the Concorde aircraft. Jardinaud had also flown the Sud Aviation Caravelle, Dassault Falcon 20, Boeing 727, 737, and 747 (including the -400 variant) aircraft.
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, Continental Airlines Flight 55, a 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 1]
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 inner elevon of the left wing and it began to disintegrate,: 164  melted by the extremely high temperatures. Engine number 1 surged again, but did not fully recover, and the right 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 deceleration and the aircraft stalled, crashing into the Hôtelissimo Les Relais Bleus Hotel. A video of the burning plane on takeoff and the aftermath of the crash was captured by a passing driver.
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, 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)."
Fire service leader: "De Gaulle tower from fire service leader, can you give me the situation of the Concorde?" (two gongs and sound of switch, followed by another switch and sounds likened to objects being moved)
Pilot: (unclear, sounds like exertion)
Pilot: (unclear, sounds like exertion)
Pilot: (unclear, sounds like exertion)
End of recording
All the passengers and crew, and four employees of the Hotelissimo hotel were killed in the crash. Most of the passengers were German tourists en route to New York for a cruise. Notable passengers included German football manager Rudi Faßnacht and German trade union member Christian Götz.
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 £44M in 2019) a year. Commercial service was resumed in November 2001 after a £17M (£24M today) safety improvement service, until the type was retired in 2003.
The official investigation was conducted by France's accident investigation bureau, the Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA).
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 2][BEA 3] 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 4] 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 BEA concluded that this did not contribute to the accident.: 155 [BEA 5]
The final report was issued on 16 January 2002.
The BEA concluded that:
- The aircraft was overloaded by 810 kilograms (1,790 lb) above the maximum safe takeoff weight. Any effect on takeoff performance from this excess weight was negligible.: 159
- After reaching takeoff speed, the tyre of the number 2 wheel was cut by a metal strip (a wear strip) lying on the runway, which had fallen from the thrust reverser cowl door of the number 3 engine of a Continental Airlines DC-10 that had taken off from the same runway five minutes previously.: 102  This wear strip had been replaced at Tel Aviv, Israel, during a C check on 11 June 2000, and then again at Houston, Texas, on 9 July 2000. The strip installed in Houston had been neither manufactured nor installed in accordance with the procedures as defined by the manufacturer.: 105–107, 171, 174
- The aircraft was airworthy and the crew were qualified. The landing gear that later failed to retract had not shown serious problems in the past. Despite the crew being trained and certified, no plan existed for the simultaneous failure of two engines on the runway, as it was considered highly unlikely.
- Aborting the takeoff would have led to a high-speed runway excursion and collapse of the landing gear, which also would have caused the aircraft to crash.
- While two of the engines had problems and one of them was shut down, the damage to the plane's structure was so severe that the crash would have been inevitable, even with the engines operating normally.
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.
Whilst examining the wreckage in a warehouse, British investigators noticed a spacer was missing from the bogie beam on the left hand main landing gear (it was later found in an Air France maintenance workshop). 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 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.
Previous tyre incidents
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 July 1979 to February 1981. 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.
- 13 June 1979: The number 5 and 6 tyres blew out during a takeoff from Washington Dulles International Airport. Fragments thrown from the tyres and rims damaged number 2 engine, punctured three fuel tanks, severed several hydraulic lines and electrical wires, and tore a large hole on the top of the wing over the wheel well area.
- 21 July 1979: Another blown tyre incident during takeoff from Dulles Airport. After that second incident the "French director general of civil aviation issued an air worthiness directive and Air France issued a Technical Information Update, each calling for revised procedures. These included required inspection of each wheel and tyre for condition, pressure and temperature prior to each takeoff. In addition, crews were advised that landing gear should not be raised when a wheel/tyre problem is suspected."
- August 1981: British Airways (BA) plane taking off from New York suffered a blow-out, damaging landing gear door, engine and fuel tank.
- November 1985: Tyre burst on a BA plane leaving Heathrow, causing damage to the landing gear door and fuel tank. Two engines were damaged as a result of the accident.
- January 1988: BA plane leaving Heathrow lost 10 bolts from its landing gear wheel. A fuel tank was punctured.
- July 1993: Tyre burst on a BA plane during landing at Heathrow, causing substantial ingestion damage to the number 3 engine, damaging the landing gear and wing, and puncturing an empty fuel tank.
- October 1993: Tyre burst on a BA plane during taxi at Heathrow, puncturing wing, damaging fuel tanks and causing a major fuel leak.
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 burst during takeoff. Analysis of test results revealed the level of kinetic energy necessary to cause the rupture of fuel tank. The analysis of impact energy considered a tyre piece of 4.5 kilograms (9.9 lb) with a speed around 140 metres per second (310 mph). The piece could reach this speed by combination of rotation of the tyre on takeoff and the tyre burst.: 115
Modifications and revival
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 May 2003, followed by British Airways five months later.
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 €200,000 ($271,628) and ordered to pay Air France €1 million. 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 had paid out €100 million 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.
Documentaries and other media
- The aircraft that crashed had previously been used in the making of the movie The Concorde ... Airport '79.
- The timeline and causes of the crash were profiled in the premiere episode of the National Geographic documentary series Seconds From Disaster.
- NBC aired a Dateline NBC documentary on the crash, its causes, and its legacy on 22 February 2009.
- Channel 4 and Discovery Channel Canada aired a documentary called Concorde's Last Flight.
- Smithsonian Channel aired a 90-minute documentary in 2010.
- The accident and subsequent investigation were featured in the 7th episode during Season 14 of documentary series Mayday (also known as Air Crash Investigation) titled "Concorde: Up in Flames", first broadcast in January 2015.
- Montreal synth-pop group Le Couleur released an album 'Concorde' inspired by the story of this crash.
- Barry, Ben (5 September 2019). "How Concorde Pushed the Limits – Then Pushed Them Too Far – Disaster and Aftermath". National Geographic. Retrieved 29 June 2020.
- "Accident on 25 July 2000 at La Patte d'Oie in Gonesse (95) to the Concorde registered F-BTSC operated by Air France (REPORT translation f-sc000725a)" (PDF). Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety. 16 January 2002.
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- How the Crash of Flight 4590 Destroyed Concorde's Mystique. Smithsonian Channel (Documentary). 20 January 2017. Retrieved 16 August 2019.
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- Ruppe, David. "Concorde's Stellar Safety Record". ABC News. Retrieved 24 September 2014.
- "In pictures: Concorde through the years". 2 February 2010. Retrieved 4 January 2021.
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- Brookes, Andrew J. (2002). Destination Disaster: Aviation Accidents in the Modern Age. Ian Allan. p. 22. ISBN 978-0-7110-2862-3.
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- "Press release, 16 January 2002 Issue of the final report into the Concorde accident on 25 July 2000". BEA. 16 January 2012. Archived from the original (English edition) on 6 January 2016.
- "'Poor repair' to DC-10 was cause of Concorde crash". Flight Global. 24 October 2000. Retrieved 24 February 2014.
- "Concorde: For the Want of a Spacer". iasa.com.au. Retrieved 29 October 2016.
- "Untold Story of the Concorde Disaster". askthepilot.com. Retrieved 29 October 2016.
- "Concorde crash remains unresolved 10 years later". digitaljournal.com. 25 July 2010. Retrieved 29 October 2016.
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- "LATEST NEWS Archive". ConcordeSST.com. Archived from the original on 6 February 2010. Retrieved 2 March 2010.
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- "Iconic Concorde Could Return for 2012 Olympics Archived 10 June 2010 at the Wayback Machine"
- "Judge places Continental under investigation in Concorde crash". USA Today. 10 March 2005. Retrieved 2 March 2010.
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.
- "Ex-Concorde head quizzed on crash". BBC News. 27 September 2005. Retrieved 20 December 2014.
- "Prosecutor seeks Concorde charges". BBC News. BBC. 12 March 2008. Archived from the original on 6 February 2010. Retrieved 2 March 2010.
- "Continental denies responsibility for crash as Concorde trial begins". Deutsche Welle. 2 March 2010. Archived from the original on 5 February 2010. Retrieved 2 March 2010.
- "Concorde crash manslaughter trial begins in France". BBC News. 2 February 2010. Archived from the original on 9 February 2010. Retrieved 2 March 2010.
- Bremner, Charles (12 March 2008). "Continental Airlines faces manslaughter charges over Paris Concorde crash". The Times. London.
- "Five to face Concorde crash trial". BBC News. BBC. 3 July 2008. Retrieved 2 March 2010.
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
- Clark, Nicola (1 February 2010). "Trial to Open in Concorde Disaster". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 February 2010.
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- Clark, Nicola (29 November 2012). "French Court Overturns Convictions in Concorde Crash". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 15 August 2019.
- Families mark 10 years since Concorde crash. Associated Press at the USA Today. 25 July 2010. Retrieved on 27 September 2013.
- Un mémorial pour les victimes du crash du Concorde La zone commerciale s'agrandit Participez au concours Pep's Star La mairie propose de parler de tout Débattez du logement avec Marie-Noëlle Lienemann. [A memorial for the victims of the crash of the Concorde The commercial area is growing Participate in the contest Pep's Star The town hall proposes to talk about everything Debate housing with Marie-Noëlle Lienemann] (in French) Le Parisien. 25 April 2006. Retrieved on 27 September 2013.
- "Mémorial AF4590". club-concorde.org. Retrieved 29 October 2016.
- "The Concorde SST Web Site: History of the aircraft that would become Air France Flight 4590". Concordesst.com. Retrieved 2 October 2011.
- "Seconds from Disaster, Schedule, Video, Photos, Facts and More". National Geographic Channel. Retrieved 23 July 2018.
- Greenberg, Peter (1 February 2010). "What brought down the Concorde?". Dateline NBC. Retrieved 23 July 2018.
- Bramson, Dara (1 July 2015). "Where Is Today's Supersonic Jet?". The Atlantic. Retrieved 23 July 2018.
- "Concorde: Flying Supersonic". Smithsonian Channel. Retrieved 23 July 2018.
- National Geographic Channel (2016), Air Crash Investigation, retrieved 29 October 2016.
- Collo-Julin, Salem. "Synth-pop trio Le Couleur explore beauty through tragedy on Concorde". Chicago Reader.
- "Le Couleur Explore Death Through Dance on 'Concorde' | Exclaim!". exclaim.ca.
- Section 2.2 "Crew Actions" (page 166): "The exceptional environment described above quite naturally led the FE to ask to shut down the engine. This was immediately confirmed by the Captain's calling for the engine fire procedure".
- Page 32: "The maximum structural weight on takeoff being 185,070 kg, it appears that the aircraft was slightly overloaded on takeoff".
- Page 159: "14h40m01s... it can be deduced that, for the crew, the aircraft weight at which the takeoff was commenced was 185,880 kg, for a MTOW of 185,070 kg".
- Section 220.127.116.11 "The Fuel in Tank 5" (page 118): "Taking into account these calculations, we may consider that the quantity of fuel in tank 5 was practically that which was loaded on the apron, which represents around 94% of the total volume of the tank".
- Page 155: "In conclusion, nothing in the research undertaken indicates that the absence of the spacer contributed in any way to the accident on 25 July 2000"
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Air France Flight 4590.|
|"How the Crash of Flight 4590 Destroyed Concorde's Mystique". Smithsonian Channel. 20 January 2017.|
|"Why the Concorde crashed and what happened next". BBC. 26 March 2019.|
- Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety
- "Accident on 25 July 2000 at "La Patte d'oie" at Gonesse." (Alternate) (Archive)
- "Accident survenu le 25 juillet 2000 au lieu-dit "La Patte d'oie" à Gonesse." (Alternate) (Archive) (in French) – the French version is the report of record.
- PlaneCrashInfo.Com – Data Entry on Flight 4590
- Accident description at the Aviation Safety Network
- The Observer – this article mentions other contributing factors
- Disaster, CBS News
- CVR transcript
- All 109 Aboard Dead in Concorde Crash into Hotel Near Paris; 4 On Ground Dead – CNN
- "Safety Recommendation(s)" (PDF). Washington, DC: National Transportation Safety Board. 9 November 1981. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 August 2009.
- "Concorde Incidents & Fatal Accident". Airguideonline.com. Archived from the original on 19 November 2008. Retrieved 2 March 2010.
- "Air France Flight 4590 at Paris, France". Lessons Learned. Federal Aviation Administration.