The loss of a Concorde - AF 4590 - Concorde F-BTSC
Air France Flight 4590 was a Concorde flight operated by Air France which was scheduled to fly from Charles de Gaulle International Airport near Paris, to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City.
On 25 July 2000, it crashed into a hotel in Gonesse, France. All one hundred passengers and nine crew members on board the flight died. On the ground, four people were killed and one critically injured.
The flight was chartered by German company Peter Deilmann Cruises; the passengers were on their way to board the cruise ship MS Deutschland in New York City for a 16-day cruise to Manta, Ecuador.
This was the only fatal Concorde accident during its 27-year operational history.
113 people lost their lives when this accident occurred
Above; The memorial of flight 4590 at the crash scene
Above; Documentary on the crash
Account of the accident
Post-accident investigation revealed that the aircraft was at or over the maximum takeoff weight for ambient temperature and other conditions, and 810 kilograms (1,790 lb) over the maximum structural weight.
As it left the gate, it was loaded such that the centre of gravity was excessively far aft.
Fuel transfer during taxiing may have overfilled the number five wing tank.
A twelve-inch spacer that normally keeps the left main landing gear in alignment had not been replaced after recent maintenance; however, the French Bureau for Accident Investigation concluded that this did not contribute to the accident.
he wind at the airport was light and variable that day, and was reported to the cockpit crew as an eight knot tail wind as they lined up on runway 26R.
Over an hour delayed, the crew proceeded with the tailwind takeoff rather than taking the time to taxi to the other end of the runway to make the takeoff into a headwind, as is normally done.
Five minutes before the Concorde, a Continental Airlines DC-10 departing for Newark, New Jersey, had lost a titanium alloy strip (part of the engine cowl, identified as a wear strip), 435 millimetres (17.1 in) long, 29 to 34 millimetres (1.1 to 1.3 in) wide and about 1.4 millimetres (0.055 in) thick, during takeoff from the same runway. French authorities acknowledged that a required runway inspection was not completed after the Continental takeoff, as was protocol for Concorde-takeoff preparation.
During the Concorde's subsequent takeoff run this piece of debris, still lying on the runway, cut a tyre, rupturing it. A large chunk of tyre debris (4.5 kilograms or 9.9 pounds) struck the underside of the aircraft's wing at an estimated speed of 140 metres per second (310 mph).
Although it did not directly puncture any of the fuel tanks, it sent out a pressure shockwave that ruptured the number five fuel tank at the weakest point, just above the undercarriage. Leaking fuel gushing out from the bottom of the wing was most likely ignited by an electric arc in the landing gear bay or through contact with severed electrical cables. At the point of ignition, engines one and two both surged and lost all power, but engine one slowly recovered over the next few seconds. A large plume of flame developed; the Flight Engineer then shut down engine two, in response to a fire warning and the Captain's command.
Air traffic controller Gilles Logelin noticed the flames before the Concorde was airborne, however with only 2 km of runway remaining and travelling at a speed of 328 km/h, its only option was to take off. The Concorde would have needed at least 3 km of runway to abort safely.
Having passed V1 speed, the crew continued the takeoff, but the plane did not gain enough airspeed with the three remaining engines, because the severed electrical cables prevented the retraction of the undercarriage. The aircraft was unable to climb or accelerate, maintaining a speed of 200 knots (370 km/h; 230 mph) at an altitude of 60 metres (200 ft). The fire caused damage to the port wing, which began to disintegrate—melted by the extremely high temperatures. Engine number one surged again, but this time failed to recover. Due to the asymmetric thrust, the starboard wing lifted, banking the aircraft to over 100 degrees. The crew reduced the power on engines three and four in an attempt to level the aircraft, but with falling airspeed they lost control and the aircraft stalled, crashing into the Hôtelissimo Les Relais Bleus Hotel near the airport.
The crew was trying to divert to nearby Le Bourget Airport, but accident investigators stated that a safe landing, given the aircraft's flight path, would have been highly unlikely.
The official investigation was conducted by France's accident investigation bureau, the BEA, and it was published on16 January 2002.
Only one video was found of the flight.
The investigators concluded that:
The aircraft was overloaded by 810 kilograms (1,790 lb) above the maximum safe takeoff weight. Any effect on takeoff performance from this excess weight was negligible.
After reaching takeoff speed, the tyre of the number 2 wheel was cut by a metal strip (a wear strip) lying on the runway, which had fallen from the thrust reverser cowl door of the number 3 engine of a Continental Airlines DC-10 which had taken off from the same runway five minutes previously. This wear strip had been replaced at Tel Aviv, Israel, during a C check on 11 June 2000. Further maintenance work had been performed at Houston, Texas, but the strip had been neither manufactured nor installed in accordance with the procedures as defined by the manufacturer.
The aircraft was airworthy and the crew were qualified. The landing gear that later failed to retract had not shown serious problems in the past. Despite the crew being trained and certified, no plan existed for the simultaneous failure of two engines on the runway, as it was considered highly unlikely.
Aborting the takeoff would have led to a high-speed runway excursion and collapse of the landing gear, which also would have caused the aircraft to crash.
While two of the engines had problems and one of them was shut down, the damage to the plane's structure was so severe that the crash would have been inevitable, even with the engines operating normally.
British investigators and former French Concorde pilots looked at several other possibilities that the report ignored, including an unbalanced weight distribution in the fuel tanks and loose landing gear. They came to the conclusion that the Concorde veered off course on the runway, which reduced takeoff speed below the crucial minimum. The aircraft had passed close to a Boeing 747 carrying French President Jacques Chirac which was much further down the runway than the Concorde's usual takeoff point; only then did it strike the metal strip from the DC-10.
The Concorde was overweight for the given conditions, with an excessively aft centre of gravity and taking off downwind. When it stood at the end of the runway, ready to roll, it was over its approved maximum takeoff weight for the given conditions.
The Concorde was missing the crucial spacer from the left main landing gear beam that would have made for a snug-fitting pivot. This compromised the alignment of the landing gear and the wobbling beam and gears allowing three degrees of movement possible in any direction. The uneven load on the left leg's three remaining tyres skewed the landing gear, with the scuff marks of four tyres on the runway showing that the plane was veering to the left.
Following is a transcript of the voice recorder box of Concorde flight AF4590, released by the French Accident and Inquiry office:
FLIGHT CLEARED for takeoff at 4:42.17 p.m.
Controller: “Air France 4590, runway 26 right, wind zero 90 knots, authorized takeoff.”
Co-pilot: “4590 taking off 26 right” (sound of switch).
Pilot: “Is everyone ready?”
Pilot: “Up to 100, 150″ (followed by unclear words, sound of switch). “Top” (noise similar to engines increasing power).
Unidentified voice on radio channel: “Go on, Christian.”
Mechanic: “We have four heated up” (sound of switch).
Co-pilot: “100 knots.”
Mechanic: “Four green.”
Co-pilot: “V one” (Low-frequency noise).
Co-pilot: “Watch out.”
Controller: “Concorde zero … 4590, you have flames (unclear) you have flames behind you.”
Unidentified voice (simultaneously on radio) “Right” (background noise changes, sound of switch).
Mechanic: “Stop (unclear).”
Co-pilot: “Well received.”
Mechanic: “Breakdown, eng, breakdown engine two” (two sounds of switches, followed by fire alarm).
Unidentified voice on radio: “It’s burning badly, huh” (Gong)
Mechanic: “Cut engine two.”
Pilot: “Engine fire procedure” (sound of switch, end of ringing).
Co-pilot: “Warning, the airspeed indicator, the airspeed indicator, the airspeed indicator” (sound of switch, gong).
Person in control tower: “It’s burning badly and I’m not sure it’s coming from the engine” (Switch sound similar to fire extinguisher handle being activated).
Pilot: “Gear on the way up.”
Controller: “4590, you have strong flames behind you.”
Mechanic: “The gear” (alarm, similar to toilet smoke alert).
Controller: “Beginning reception of a Middle Marker.”
Co-pilot: “Yes, well received.”
Mechanic: “The gear, no” (Gong).
Controller: “So, at your convenience, you have priority to land.”
Co-pilot: “No” (two switch noises).
Pilot: “Gear (unclear), coming up.”
Co-pilot: “Well received” (fire alarm, gong, three switch sounds).
Co-pilot: “I’m trying (unclear).”
Mechanic: “I’m hitting.”
Pilot: “Are (unclear) you cutting engine two” (end of smoke alarm).
Mechanic: “I’ve cut it.”
Controller: “End reception Middle Marker.”
Co-pilot: “The airspeed indicator” (sound of switch, end of ringing).
Co-pilot: “The gear won’t come up” (fire alarm rings).
Aircraft instrument: “Whoop whoop pull up” (GPWS alarm, gong).
Aircraft instrument: “Whoop whoop pull up” (GPWS alarm).
Co-pilot: “The airspeed indicator.”
Aircraft instrument: “Whoop whoop pull up” (GPWS alarm).
Fire service leader: “De Gaulle tower from fire service leader.”
Controller: “Fire service leader, uh … the Concorde, I don’t know its intentions, get yourself in position near the south doublet” (sound of switch).
Fire service leader: “De Gaulle tower from fire service leader authorization to enter 26 right.”
Co-pilot: “Le Bourget, Le Bourget, Le Bourget.”
Pilot: “Too late (unclear).”
Controller: “Fire service leader, correction, the Concorde is returning to runway zero nine in the opposite direction.”
Pilot: “No time, no (unclear).”
Co-pilot: “Negative, we’re trying Le Bourget” (four switching sounds).
Co-pilot: “No (unclear).”
Fire service leader: “De Gaulle tower from fire service leader, can you give me the situation of the Concorde” (two gongs and sound of switch, followed by another switch and sounds likened to objects being moved).
Pilot: (unclear, sounds like exertion).
Pilot: (unclear, sounds like exertion).
Pilot: (unclear, sounds like exertion).
Last sound noted on transcript at 4:44.30.18 p.m. Recording ends at 4:44.31.16 p.m.
On 10 March 2005, French authorities began a criminal investigation of Continental Airlines, whose plane dropped the debris on the runway.
In September 2005, Henri Perrier, the former head of the Concorde division at Aérospatiale, and Jacques Herubel, the Concorde chief engineer, came under investigation for negligence: a report stated that the company had more than 70 incidents involving Concorde tyres between 1979 and 2000, but had failed to take appropriate steps based upon these incidents.
On 12 March 2008, Bernard Farret, a deputy prosecutor in Pontoise, outside Paris, asked judges to bring manslaughter charges against Continental Airlines and four individuals:
John Taylor, an American Continental mechanic
Stanley Ford, an American Continental maintenance manager
Henri Perrier of Aérospatiale
Claude Frantzen, a former employee of the French airline regulator.
Charges against Jacques Herubel were reported to have been dropped, but on 3 July 2008, confirmation of the trial, including Herubel, was published.
The trial started on 2 February 2010. Also facing fines or a custodial sentence were the designers of the plane, who prosecutors say knew that the plane's fuel tanks could be susceptible to damage from foreign objects, as well as a French official responsible for the regulation of the plane's safety.
Continental denied the charges, and claimed in court that the aircraft was already on fire when it passed over the titanium strip.
On 6 December 2010, Continental Airlines was found criminally responsible for the disaster by a Parisian court and was fined €200,000 ($271,628) and ordered to pay Air France €1 million. Continental mechanic John Taylor was given a 15-month suspended sentence, while another airline operative and three French officials were cleared of all charges.
The court ruled that the crash resulted from a piece of metal from a Continental jet that was left on the runway; the object punctured a tyre on the Concorde and then ruptured a fuel tank. Another Continental employee, Stanley Ford, was found not guilty. Continental's lawyer, Olivier Metzner, said it would appeal the verdict.
On 29 November 2012, a French appeals court overturned that decision, thereby clearing Continental of criminal responsibility.
The Parisian court also ruled that Continental would have to pay 70% of any compensation claims. As Air France has paid out €100 million to the families of the victims, Continental could be made to pay its share of that compensation payout. The French appeals court, while overturning the criminal rulings by the Parisian court, affirmed the civil ruling and left Continental liable for the compensation claims.