Continental blamed for Concorde crash

Click to follow

A shard of metal which fell from a Continental jet and a weakness in Concorde's design caused the Paris crash in July 2000 which killed 113 and ended the career of the Franco-British supersonic plane, a French prosecutor said yesterday.

A shard of metal which fell from a Continental jet and a weakness in Concorde's design caused the Paris crash in July 2000 which killed 113 and ended the career of the Franco-British supersonic plane, a French prosecutor said yesterday.

Although the provisional findings of the criminal investigation closely followed those of the official accident report three years ago, they could open the way to legal action against Continental Airlines officials and ground staff. Paris-based staff of the American company have to give evidence to an investigating judge in February. Senior executives of Continental in the US, including the CEO, Gordon Bethune, have been asked to attend a similar hearing in March. Lawyers for the families of victims said they would push for Continental officials to be placed under formal investigation, one step short of a charge, but prosecution officials said that this was not yet envisaged.

The interim report of the judicial investigation also criticised the makers and operators of Concorde - Aerospatiale, British Aerospace, Air France and British Airways - for failing to take thorough action to correct a weakness in the aircraft's wing fuel tanks, first uncovered in 1979.

The investigating judges also criticise "weaknesses" in the training of the Air France Concorde pilots, who failed to respond adequately when the aircraft caught fire, switching off a stuttering engine before it was necessary.

But the investigating judges do not appear to believe these failings amounted to negligence or criminal responsibility, so criminal proceedings for manslaughter against Air France are unlikely.

Whether it would be possible to bring such charges against Continental employees or bosses is unclear. The criminal, or judicial investigation, has confirmed the earlier French accident bureau findings that a chain reaction of blunders and weaknesses led the chartered, US-bound Concorde to burst into flames soon after take-off from Charles de Gaulle. The aircraft hit a hotel at Gonesse, three miles from the airport.

After a four-year investigation, including a near-complete reassembly of the fragmented aircraft, the investigating judges said the "immediate cause" of the accident was a burst tyre, caused by a piece of titanium dropped on the runway by the Continental jumbo jet in front of the Concorde. The debris from the tyre penetrated a wing, causing a fire in a petrol tank, which led the supersonic aircraft to lose power, fail to gain sufficient height on take off and then crash.

The vulnerability of Concorde wings to such a tyre burst had been known since 1979, the report said, but inadequate steps had been taken to correct the problem. The metal "wear-strip" which fell from an engine housing of the Continental Boeing 747 which had been poorly fitted by Continental ground staff in Paris, was made of titanium alloy, the report said. US aviation safety regulations require aluminium should be used. Titanium is tougher than aluminium and was likely to cause more damage to the tyres of the following aircraft.

"The technical investigation has shown a direct causal link between the rupture of the Number 2 wheel's tyre on the left side and its running over the metal strip made of titanium alloy," the statement by the public prosecutor said.

Air France and British Airways grounded their fleets while safety modifications were made to the tyres and wing fuel tanks. Flights resumed briefly but the world's only supersonic airliner was finally taken out of service in October 2003. Some models were given to aero museums and other attractions but the makers say the aircraft will never fly again. It started flying in March 1969.

Comments