Concorde runway unchecked for 12 hours before crash

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The Independent Online

Investigators looking at the Concorde crash in July have revealed that the Paris runway was not properly checked for more than 12 hours before the plane took off - and that a scheduled inspection was cancelled for a fire practice.

Investigators looking at the Concorde crash in July have revealed that the Paris runway was not properly checked for more than 12 hours before the plane took off - and that a scheduled inspection was cancelled for a fire practice.

The Air France Concorde crashed minutes after taking off from runway 26 at Charles De Gaulle airport. One of its tyres was punctured by a 16-inch piece of metal that was lying on the runway, according to a preliminary report released by the French Accident and Inquiry Office (BEA) on Thursday. Pieces of the punctured tyre pierced the fuel tank, causing an uncontrollable fire.

Investigators are still mystified by the origin of the metal strip, which seems to be an aviation part but was not reported missing by any aircraft.

The Air France plane crash killed all 109 people on board and four on the ground. It was the first fatal crash of Concorde in 34 years of commercial flying. The 12 remaining planes have had their airworthiness certificates suspended.

An airport authority spokesman, Didier Hamon, said Charles de Gaulle airport generally made three inspections of the runway a day at "relatively flexible" times.

On 25 July, the day of the crash, the first check was done at 4.30am, according to the BEA official report. A partial inspection was made at 2.30pm because a plane was believed to have collided with a bird.

A second full inspection at 3pm was postponed because of a fire practice between 2.35 and 3.10pm. The runway had thus not been fully inspected for more than 12 hours when the Concorde flight received take-off clearance at 4.42pm.

Mr Hamon insisted though that anything wrong "would have been noticed immediately". He added: "We do believe that everything was done that day as it is normal to do. On that day, nothing abnormal, nothing exceptional was reported to the airport authority."

The BEA said yesterday that nothing unusual had been reported on the runway, either by pilots, cleaners or firemen in the hours before the accident.

Paul-Louis Arslanian, chief of the BEA, said that while the piece of metal - bent at one end and covered with a greenish epoxy on one side and a reddish putty - "looks very like an aviation part", no airlines withplanes that used runway 26 at Charles De Gaulle airport, from which the Air France Concorde took off, had reported anymissing parts.

Nor did investigators think the part came from a fire team that conducted an exercise on the runway earlier that day. The part is not thought to have come from the doomed Concorde itself.

Mr Arslanian said the issue of the runway inspections "has not been addressed yet by investigators. It's too early in the process." The full report may take up to a year to compile.

He added that last month's recommendation to suspend the supersonic plane's airworthiness certificate "still seems valid" and declined to say when the Concorde might be cleared to fly again.

Transcripts released on Thursday showed how the crew struggled with the stricken plane after it took off. They were not aware of the fire until alerted by the air-control tower.

The final piece of the transcript released yesterday included a comment from the air control tower after the plane crashed. "The Concorde has crashed near Le Bourget..." the control tower said at 4.45. A minute later, the control tower sent out a general message: "For all planes listening, I'll get back to you in a minute. We're going to pull ourselves together and restart take-offs."

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