At 4.07pm, one of the world's most exotic birds became extinct

Concorde, as graceful and remarkable as any creature that ever took flight, landed on a cold, afternoon at Heathrow for the last time, and, with it, went every idea that the improbable was possible.

The belief, for example, that man's scientific achievement could defy nature; that Britain and France could co-operate successfully on such a large project; and, most important, the idea that travel could be romantic.

No wonder, then, that for the 100 people on board BA002 from New York yesterday, as well as the thousands watching from the ground, Concorde's final appearance in the skies over London symbolised more than just the passing of the supersonic era.

That was articulated at various points across the Atlantic by Captain Mike Bannister, a Concorde pilot for 27 years, who spoke eloquently about how this aeroplane represented "achievement, grace, dignity, and class". His feelings were amplified by Julia Van Den Bosch, who has been a stewardess on the plane since it started flying in 1976. Clearly briefed by BA's PR department, she talked blandly about what a big day it was, and how delighted she was to have served on Concorde. To which a fellow stewardess simply said: "Go on, Julia, tell the truth". "Words fail me", Julia said on touch-down, visibly upset.

BA laid on quite a show for those of us fortunate to be on the final flight but nothing could diminish the sense of loss felt by those of us who regard Concorde as something more than a way of getting from A to B.

There we were flying at twice the speed of sound in an aircraft that was 20 years old. In short, we were in an antique, flying to the frontiers of technology.

Concorde, with its cargo of captains of industry, celebrities, frequent flyers, and, at the back of the plane, hacks, had taken off from New York at 7.37am local time. On boarding the plane, I heard the apotheosis of that annoying mobile phone call: the model Jodie Kidd was shouting into her phone "I am on the Concorde".

The other celebrities - Sir David Frost, Joan Collins, Christie Brinkley, Darcey Bussell - behaved impeccably, apart from Jeremy Clarkson, who threw a glass of water over Piers Morgan, the Editor of the Daily Mirror. Clarkson was apparently upset by some photographs in Mr Morgan's journal.

By the time we were served the first course of our "commemorative breakfast" - smoked salmon with caviar, we were already at the cruising altitude of 55,000ft, flying, as Captain Bannister put it, "faster than the speed of a bullet".

More show-off food was to follow - a choice of mixed grill, lobster fishcakes, or wild mushroom and truffle omelette - but this trip was not about caviar or fine wine, it was about the paradox of watching history and future come together, and then disappear, tragically from sight.

As we made our choreographed descent into London, joined by the two sister Concordes, it was hard to avoid thinking of the symbolism as we passed over the Millennium Dome. One, a white elephant, a waste of money on a vainglorious exercise; the other, a magnificent silver bird, a tribute to British engineering and foresight. And guess which one we don't have any longer?

Generations to come will probably look back incredulously at the Concorde era. "It took how long for it to fly across the Atlantic? And they did what to it?"

It is easy to rage against the tyranny of the balance sheet that condemned Concorde to the knacker's yard - BA did its best to turn a potential PR disaster to its advantage. But the tears from those involved with the plane ensured that no amount of financial logic could override the emotion.

As Captain Bannister said poetically at the conclusion of his final flight, "Concorde was born from dreams and built with vision ... a fabulous aircraft that has become a legend today."

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