Air France Flight 4590
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 Newark International Airport, New Jersey, 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.
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 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.
- The captain was 54-year-old Christian Marty, 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.
- The first officer was 50-year-old Jean Marcot, who had been with Air France since 1971 and had 10,035 flight hours, including 2,698 hours on the Concorde. He had also flown the Aérospatiale N 262, Morane-Saulnier MS.760 Paris, Sud Aviation Caravelle and Airbus A300 aircraft.
- The flight engineer was 58-year-old Gilles Jardinaud, who had been with Air France since 1968. He had 12,532 flight hours, including 937 hours on the Concorde. Jardinaud had also flown the Sud Aviation Caravelle, Dassault Falcon 20, Boeing 727, 737, and 747 (including the -400 variant) aircraft.
Post-accident investigation revealed that the aircraft was at or 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] loaded so that the centre of gravity was aft of the take-off limit.:159[BEA 3] 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 Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la Sécurité de l'Aviation Civile (BEA) concluded that this did not contribute to the accident.[BEA 5] 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.:17,170[BEA 6] The Concorde ran over this piece of debris during its take-off run, 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).: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[BEA 7] Engines 1 and 2 both surged and lost all power, then engine 1 slowly recovered over the next few seconds.:17[BEA 8] 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 9]
Air traffic controller Gilles Logelin noticed the flames before the Concorde was airborne and informed the flight crew.:17[BEA 10] 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[BEA 11] 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?"
Cockpit Area Microphone (CAM): (Sound of effort)
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, but 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, up 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 remaining aircraft were retired in 2003.
The official investigation was conducted by France's accident investigation bureau, the BEA, and 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. 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[BEA 12]
- 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.
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 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.
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, 2001 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, and British Airways ended its Concorde flights in October 2003.
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 has 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.
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, accused Air France of negligence.
The Concorde had veered towards 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 spacer from the left main landing gear beam. 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.
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 topiary 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.
- Operator History
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- The damaged hotel and the scorched field show the impact of the crash, CBS News
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- BEA report Section 1.16.6, p102 "Metallic Strip found on the Runway".
- "'Poor repair' to DC-10 was cause of Concorde crash". Flight Global. 24 October 2000. Retrieved 24 February 2014.
- "N13067 Continental Air Lines McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 – cn 47866 / 149". Planespotters.net. Retrieved 14 October 2015.
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- "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.
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- 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. 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.
- Fraser, Christian (6 December 2010). "Continental responsible for Concorde crash in 2000". BBC. Archived from the original on 6 December 2010. Retrieved 6 December 2010.
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- Section 1.5.1 "Flight Crew" (pages 18–20)
- Page 32: "The maximum structural weight on takeoff being 185,070 kg, it appears that the aircraft was slightly overloaded on takeoff".
- Page 159.
- Section 126.96.36.199 "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"
- Section 188.8.131.52 "Examination of the Wear Strip" (page 107)
- Section 184.108.40.206 "Ignition and Propagation of the Flame" (pages 120–123).
- Section 1.1 "History of the Flight" (page 17).
- 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".
- Section 1.1 "History of the Flight" (page 17).
- Section 1.16.10 "Origin of the Non-retraction of the Landing Gear" (pages 134–135).
- Sections 220.127.116.11 "Manufacturer's Documentation" and 18.104.22.168 "Maintenance on N 13067" (pages 105–107), and section 2.6 "Maintenance at Continental Airlines" (page 171) and section 3.1 "Findings" (page 174).
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Air France Flight 4590.|
- Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la Sécurité de l'Aviation Civile
- "Accident on 25 July 2000 at "La Patte d'oie" at Gonesse."
- "Accident survenu le 25 juillet 2000 au lieu-dit "La Patte d'oie" à Gonesse."
- Preliminary report ‹See Tfd›(in French) (PDF, Archive), published 1 September 2000.
- Interim report ‹See Tfd›(in French) (PDF, Archive), published 15 December 2000.
- Interim report 2 ‹See Tfd›(in French) (PDF, Archive), published 23 July 2001.
- Final report ‹See Tfd›(in French) (PDF, Archive), published 16 January 2002 – 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.