Concorde crew had no way to avert disaster

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The Independent Online

The crew of the Air France Concorde that crashed in Paris five weeks ago had no chance to control the plane or understand how it was damaged, according to a transcript of the flight's final moments released last night.

The crew of the Air France Concorde that crashed in Paris five weeks ago had no chance to control the plane or understand how it was damaged, according to a transcript of the flight's final moments released last night.

The two-minute transcript, released with a preliminary report by the French Accident and Inquiry Office (BEA), revealed the last words by the crew as they fought to keep flight AF4590 in the air and land at nearby Le Bourget airport.

The last moments suggest a frantic mixture of fire and "stall" alarms as the plane's speed dropped, while the crew tried to regain control by any means possible.

The Concorde crashed on the afternoon of 25 July less than two minutes after taking off from Charles De Gaulle airport near Paris, killing 113 people. The dead were German tourists bound for the US, the crew and four people at a hotel.

The crash was the first involving the supersonic plane since it entered service in 1972. Only Air France and British Airways own Concordes - five and seven respectively - and the aircraft's future is in doubt. Both governments have suspended its permission to fly until they are convinced the accident could not recur.

The transcript begins with the take-off clearance - "Is everyone ready?" says Christian Marty, the pilot, expecting a routine flight - and ends two minutes and 13 seconds later with the last sounds of exertion as the crew struggle to control the plane.

But it was air-traffic controllers who alerted them to the plume of flame behind them, caused by a tyre that had punctured the fuel tank. The tyre itself was blown by a stray piece of metal on the runway but it was the tyre rubber that pierced the wing-mounted tank and started the fire. This is the factor that has led to Concorde being grounded.

A photograph of a badly damaged Goodyear tyre was contained in the report. It showed a 4kg (8.8lb) tyre part with a gash 32cm (more than a foot) long. The BEA has said a 40cm piece of metal found on the runway shoulder, and unlikely to have belonged to the Concorde, gashed the tyre.

"Engine fire procedure," announced the pilot calmly on hearing the radio message. But his co-pilot immediately alerted him: "Warning, the airspeed indicator, the airspeed indicator, the airspeed indicator", against the banging noise that indicated the plane was flying too slowly and about to stall.

As the landing gear failed to retract, setting off an alarm, the crew cut power to an engine and then decided within seconds whether to try to turn back to the runway they had just left or head for Le Bourget.

But, even as fire teams on the ground asked the captain of the plane where he would go, the pilot responded "No time." The co-pilot responded: "We're trying Le Bourget." After that there was no time in the cockpit for anything but the last efforts to control the aircraft.

The report by the French safety bureau, with the British Air Accident Investigation Board, set out the sequence of events. The tyre puncture, it said, "indirectly... caused the aeroplane to crash less than one minute thirty seconds after the blow-out".

The fire, it noted, broke out within seconds of the tyre blow-out, causing a loss of thrust in one and then two engines on the port wing. That rendered the aircraft unable to fly, despite the efforts of its crew, who "had no way of knowing about the nature of the fire nor any means of fighting it".

On 16 August both France and Britain suspended the airworthiness certificates for Concorde on the basis that the accident had been caused entirely by the damage done by the tyre rubber to the aircraft structure.

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