Discovery on runway indicates fuel tank rupture caused Concorde crash

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Part the fuel tank of the Air France Concorde that crashed in Paris last Tuesday killing 114 people has been found on the runway at Charles de Gaulle airport.

Part the fuel tank of the Air France Concorde that crashed in Paris last Tuesday killing 114 people has been found on the runway at Charles de Gaulle airport.

The discovery adds considerable credence to the theory that the disaster was caused by a massive fuel leak rather than engine problems. According to the French Accident Investigation Bureau (BEA) this would mean that the flames seen coming from the plane were caused by leaking fuel and not a damaged engine.

The bureau revealed the find as British and French safety officials prepared to meet today to discuss safety measures for Concorde flights.

Confidence in Concorde suffered another blow yesterday when British Airways was forced to temporarily ground one of its supersonic fleet after a refuelling problem at Heathrow. The 51 passengers were switched to another Concorde but were delayed for more than an hour. "It was standard procedure and there was nothing to worry about," said a spokeswoman.

French officials believe last Tuesday's crash was caused by a burst tyre damaging the Concorde's structure, setting off a fire and causing engine failure. Air France has said that bursting tyres have previously damaged fuel tanks and engines on Concordes.

Yesterday the BEA said: "The flames seen after take-off do not originate from an engine but, most likely, from an important fuel leak."

Management at BA is continuing to resist pressure to ground the aircraft despite Air France's decision to halt all supersonic services until the exact cause of the tragedy is known. A BA spokeswoman said enthusiasm for Concorde seemed to be undimmed. While there were a high number of cancellations immediately after the crash, bookings had returned to normal, she said.

Air France and the tour operator that booked German tourists on the flight are facingwhat may be the largest compensation suit in aviation history. The multi-million damages claim by the relatives of the German victims - with some claiming up to £3m - could set a new precedent in air accident compensation.

Lawyers said they were advising families of the victims to file a class action suit and present their interests collectively. "It's important that they get together and that not each individual struggle alone," said Burkhard Kötke, of the Leistikow law practice, which is representing a number of relatives of crash victims.

Sven Leistikow said contracts signed by the victims would have to be examined to determine whether the "contractual" carrier, the tour operator Peter Deilmann, or the "actual carrier", Air France, is to be held liable.

Normally the Deilmann company would be responsible if it offered a full tour, including a charter flight and a luxury cruise. But if victims booked the Concorde flight themselves, Air France would be liable.

A second question of liability concerns the exact cause of the crash. Mr Leistikow said he believed the case would be settled out of court, as is typical in damages claims. "We are looking at an amount, which I wouldn't want to name, but it starts with £83,000 and upwards," he said.

Under the Warsaw Convention, the limit to liability claims is about £18,000 in cases where no gross negligence can be proved. But EU guidelines on air accidents, introduced in October 1998, have lifted that ceiling. Now relatives of victims can demand up to £77,000 without having to show any blame on the part of the airline.