Air France Flight 4590
Air France Flight 4590 was an international charter flight, from Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris to John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York, flown by an Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde. On the afternoon of 25 July 2000, the aircraft serving the flight (registration F-BTSC) ran over debris on the runway during takeoff, blowing a tyre and puncturing a fuel tank. The subsequent fire and engine failure caused the aircraft to crash into a hotel in nearby Gonesse two minutes after takeoff, killing all 109 people on board and four more people in the hotel, with another person in the hotel critically injured.
Flight 4590 during takeoff
|Date||25 July 2000|
|Summary||Foreign object damage leading to in-flight fire and loss of control|
|Site||Gonesse (near Charles de Gaulle Airport), France |
|Total fatalities||113 (109 on the aircraft, 4 on the ground)|
|Total injuries||1 (on ground)|
F-BTSC, the Concorde involved in the accident, photographed in July 1985
|Flight origin||Charles de Gaulle Airport|
|Destination||John F. Kennedy International Airport|
N13067, the DC-10 involved, seen before the accident while flying with Eastern Airlines
|Type||McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30|
|Flight origin||Charles de Gaulle Airport|
|Destination||Newark International Airport|
The flight was chartered by German company Peter Deilmann Cruises, and 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. It was the only fatal Concorde accident during its 27-year operational history.
Aircraft and crew
The aircraft involved was a 25-year old Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde (registration F-BTSC, serial number 203) that had its maiden flight on 31 January 1975 (during testing the aircraft's registration was F-WTSC). The aircraft was purchased by Air France on 6 January 1976. It was powered by four Rolls-Royce Olympus 593/610 turbojet engines, each of which were equipped with afterburners. The aircraft's last scheduled repair took place on 21 July 2000, four days before the accident; no problems were reported during the repair. At the time of the crash, the aircraft had flown for 11,989 hours and had made 4,873 take-off and landing cycles.:21–35
- Captain Christian Marty, 54 years old, who had been with Air France since 1967. He had 13,477 flight hours, including 317 hours on the Concorde. Marty had also flown the Boeing 727, 737, Airbus A300, A320, and A340 aircraft.
- First officer Jean Marcot, 50, who had been with Air France since 1971. He had 10,035 flight hours, including 2,698 hours on the Concorde. He had also flown the Aérospatiale N 262, Morane-Saulnier MS.760 Paris, Sud Aviation Caravelle and Airbus A300 aircraft.
- Flight engineer Gilles Jardinaud, 58, who had been with Air France since 1968. He had 12,532 flight hours, including 937 hours on the Concorde. Jardinaud had also flown the Sud Aviation Caravelle, Dassault Falcon 20, Boeing 727, 737, and 747 (including the -400 variant) aircraft.
Post-accident investigation revealed that the aircraft was over the maximum takeoff weight for ambient temperature and other conditions, and 810 kg (1,790 lb) over the maximum structural weight,:32,159 loaded so that the centre of gravity was aft of the take-off limit.:159 Fuel transfer during taxiing left the number 5 wing tank 94 percent full.:118 A 30-centimetre (12 in) spacer normally keeps the left main landing gear in alignment, but it had not been replaced after recent maintenance; the Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la Sécurité de l'Aviation Civile (BEA) concluded that this did not contribute to the accident.:155 The wind at the airport was light and variable that day, and was reported to the cockpit crew as an eight-knot (15 km/h; 9 mph) tailwind as they lined up on runway 26R.:17,170
Five minutes before the Concorde departed, a Continental Airlines McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 took off from the same runway for Newark International Airport and lost a titanium alloy strip that was part of the engine cowl, identified as a wear strip about 435 millimetres (17.1 in) long, 29 to 34 millimetres (1.1 to 1.3 in) wide, and 1.4 millimetres (0.055 in) thick.:17,107 The Concorde ran over this piece of debris during its take-off run, cutting the right front tyre (tyre No 2) and sending a large chunk of tyre debris (4.5 kilograms or 9.9 pounds) into the underside of the left wing at an estimated speed of 140 metres per second (310 mph).:115 It did not directly puncture any of the fuel tanks, but it sent out a pressure shockwave that ruptured the number 5 fuel tank at the weakest point, just above the undercarriage. Leaking fuel gushing out from the bottom of the wing was most likely ignited either by an electric arc in the landing gear bay (debris cutting the landing gear wire) or through contact with hot parts of the engine.:120–123 Engines 1 and 2 both surged and lost all power, then engine 1 slowly recovered over the next few seconds.:17 A large plume of flame developed, and the flight engineer shut down engine 2 in response to a fire warning and the captain's command.:166
Air traffic controller Gilles Logelin noticed the flames before the Concorde was airborne and informed the flight crew.:17 However, the aircraft had passed V1 speed, at which point takeoff is considered unsafe to abort. The plane did not gain enough airspeed with the three remaining engines as damage to the landing gear bay door prevented the retraction of the undercarriage.:134–135 The aircraft was unable to climb or accelerate, and its speed decayed during the course of its brief flight.:33–37 The fire caused damage to the port wing and it began to disintegrate, melted by the extremely high temperatures. Engine number 1 surged again, but this time failed to recover, and the starboard wing lifted from the asymmetrical thrust, 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 they lost control due to falling speed and the aircraft stalled, crashing into the Hôtelissimo Les Relais Bleus Hotel. The hotel is near the airport and adjacent to an intersection known as La Patte d'Oie de Gonesse (the Goose Foot of Gonesse) for its radiating roads D902 and D317.
The crew was trying to divert to nearby Paris–Le Bourget Airport, but accident investigators stated that a safe landing would have been highly unlikely, given the aircraft's flightpath. The cockpit voice recorder (CVR) recorded the last intelligible words in the cockpit (translated into English):
Co-pilot: "Le Bourget, Le Bourget."
Pilot: "Too late (unclear)."
Control tower: "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)."
Control tower: "De Gaulle tower from fire service leader, can you give me the situation of the Concorde?"
Pilot: (unclear, sounds like exertion)
End of recording
Air France's Concorde operation had been a money-losing venture, and it is claimed that the aeroplane had been kept in service as a matter of national pride; British Airways claimed to make a profit on its Concorde operations. According to Jock Lowe, a Concorde pilot, until the crash of Air France Flight 4590 at Paris, the British Airways Concorde operation made a net average profit of about £30M (equivalent to £50M today) a year. Commercial service was resumed in November 2001 after a £17M (£28M today) safety improvement service, until the type was retired in 2003.
The BEA 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.:159
- 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 that had taken off from the same runway five minutes previously.:102 This wear strip had been replaced at Tel Aviv, Israel, during a C check on 11 June 2000, and then again at Houston, Texas, on 9 July 2000. The strip installed in Houston had been neither manufactured nor installed in accordance with the procedures as defined by the manufacturer.:105–107,171,174
- 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.
Two factors that the BEA found to be of negligible consequence to the crash, an unbalanced weight distribution in the fuel tanks and loose landing gear, were re-evaluated by British investigators and former French Concorde pilots. They accused Air France of negligence because they concluded these factors caused the aircraft to veer off course on the runway reducing its takeoff speed to below the critical minimum.
Air France had discovered that its maintenance staff had not replaced or renewed a spacer in one of the four tyres in the rear left landing gear (it was found in a workshop after the crash). This skewed the alignment of the landing gear because a strut was able to wobble in any direction with 3° of movement. The problem was exacerbated on the left gear's three remaining tyres by the uneven fuel load. Drag marks left on the runway by the left rear landing wheels show the Concorde was veering to the left as it accelerated towards takeoff.
Due to the veer, the Concorde travelled further down the runway than normal because it was failing to gain sufficient takeoff speed. It was after it had passed its usual takeoff point on the runway that it struck the metal strip from the DC-10.
Previous tyre incidents
In November 1981, the American National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) sent a letter of concern to the French BEA that included safety recommendations for Concorde. This communiqué was the result of the NTSB's investigations of four Air France Concorde incidents during a 20-month period from July 1979 to February 1981. The NTSB described those incidents as "potentially catastrophic," because they were caused by blown tyres during takeoff. During its 27 years in service, Concorde had about 70 tyre- or wheel-related incidents, seven of which caused serious damage to the aircraft or were potentially catastrophic.
- 13 June 1979: The number 5 and 6 tyres blew out during a takeoff from Washington Dulles International Airport. Fragments thrown from the tyres and rims damaged number 2 engine, punctured three fuel tanks, severed several hydraulic lines and electrical wires, and tore a large hole on the top of the wing over the wheel well area.
- 21 July 1979: Another blown tyre incident during takeoff from Dulles Airport. After that second incident the "French director general of civil aviation issued an air worthiness directive and Air France issued a Technical Information Update, each calling for revised procedures. These included required inspection of each wheel and tyre for condition, pressure and temperature prior to each takeoff. In addition, crews were advised that landing gear should not be raised when a wheel/tyre problem is suspected."
- August 1981: British Airways (BA) plane taking off from New York suffered a blow-out, damaging landing gear door, engine and fuel tank.
- November 1985: Tyre burst on a BA plane leaving Heathrow, causing damage to the landing gear door and fuel tank. Two engines were damaged as a result of the accident.
- January 1988: BA plane leaving Heathrow lost 10 bolts from its landing gear wheel. A fuel tank was punctured.
- July 1993: Tyre burst on a BA plane during landing at Heathrow, causing substantial ingestion damage to the number 3 engine, damaging the landing gear and wing, and puncturing an empty fuel tank.
- October 1993: Tyre burst on a BA plane during taxi at Heathrow, puncturing wing, damaging fuel tanks and causing a major fuel leak.
Because it is a tailless delta-wing aircraft, Concorde could not use the normal flaps or slats to assist takeoff and landing, and required a significantly higher air and tyre speed during the takeoff roll than an average airliner. That higher speed increased the risk of tyre burst during takeoff. When the tyres did burst, much greater kinetic energy was carried by the resulting fragments, increasing the risk of serious damage to the aircraft.
Modifications and revival
The accident led to modifications to Concorde, including more secure electrical controls, Kevlar lining to the fuel tanks, and specially developed burst-resistant tyres.
The crash of the Air France Concorde nonetheless proved to be the beginning of the end for the type. Just before service resumed, the September 11 attacks took place, resulting in a marked drop in passenger numbers, and contributing to the eventual end of Concorde flights. Air France stopped flights in May 2003, and British Airways ended its Concorde flights in October 2003.
In June 2010, two groups attempted, unsuccessfully, to revive Concorde for "Heritage" flights in time for the 2012 Olympics. The British Save Concorde Group, SCG, and French group Olympus 593 were attempting to get four Rolls-Royce Olympus engines at Le Bourget Air and Space Museum.
French authorities began a criminal investigation of Continental Airlines, whose plane dropped the debris on the runway, in March 2005, and that September, Henri Perrier, the former chief engineer of the Concorde division at Aérospatiale at the time of the first test flight in 1969 and the programme director in the 1980s and early 1990s, was placed under formal investigation.
In March 2008, Bernard Farret, a deputy prosecutor in Pontoise, outside Paris, asked judges to bring manslaughter charges against Continental Airlines and two of its employees – John Taylor, the mechanic who replaced the wear strip on the DC-10, and his manager Stanley Ford – alleging negligence in the way the repair was carried out. Continental denied the charges, and claimed in court that it was being used as a scapegoat by the BEA. The airline suggested that the Concorde "was already on fire when its wheels hit the titanium strip, and that around 20 first-hand witnesses had confirmed that the plane seemed to be on fire immediately after it began its take-off roll".
At the same time charges were laid against Henri Perrier, head of the Concorde program at Aérospatiale, Jacques Hérubel, Concorde's chief engineer, and Claude Frantzen, head of DGAC, the French airline regulator. It was alleged that Perrier, Hérubel and Frantzen knew that the plane's fuel tanks could be susceptible to damage from foreign objects, but nonetheless allowed it to fly.
The trial ran in a Parisian court from February to December 2010. Continental Airlines was found criminally responsible for the disaster. It was fined €200,000 ($271,628) and ordered to pay Air France €1 million. Taylor was given a 15-month suspended sentence, while Ford, Perrier, Hérubel and Frantzen 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. The convictions were overturned by a French appeals court in November 2012, thereby clearing Continental and Taylor 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.
A monument in honour of the crash victims was established at Gonesse. The Gonesse monument consists of a piece of transparent glass with a piece of an aircraft wing jutting through. Another monument, a 6,000-square-metre (65,000 sq ft) memorial surrounded with topiary planted in the shape of a Concorde, was established in 2006 at Mitry-Mory, just south of Charles de Gaulle Airport.
Documentaries and other media
- The aircraft that crashed had previously been used in the making of the movie The Concorde ... Airport '79.
- The timeline and causes of the crash were profiled in the premiere episode of the National Geographic documentary series Seconds From Disaster.
- NBC aired a Dateline NBC documentary on the crash, its causes, and its legacy on 22 February 2009.
- Channel 4 and Discovery Channel Canada aired a documentary called Concorde's Last Flight.
- Smithsonian Channel aired a 90-minute documentary in 2010.
- The accident and subsequent investigation were featured in the 7th episode during Season 14 of documentary series Mayday (also known as Air Crash Investigation) titled "Concorde: Up In Flames", first broadcast in January 2015.
- Operator History
- "Concorde Crash", The Canadian Encyclopedia. Archived 8 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine
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- Ranter, Harro. "ASN Aircraft accident Aérospatiale / BAC Concorde 101 F-BTSC Gonesse". aviation-safety.net. Retrieved 22 July 2019.
- "Accident on 25 July 2000 at La Patte d'Oie in Gonesse (95) to the Concorde registered F-BTSC operated by Air France (REPORT translation f-sc000725a)" (PDF). BEA. 16 January 2002. Retrieved 28 May 2019.
- "Air France F-BTSC (Concorde - MSN 203) | Airfleets aviation". www.airfleets.net. Retrieved 26 May 2019.
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- Brookes, Andrew, Destination Disaster, page 22, Ian Allan, ISBN 0-7110-2862-1
- Brookes, Andrew, Destination Disaster, page 19, Ian Allan, ISBN 0-7110-2862-1
- "Metal Part Maybe Came From Continental Jet". Abcnews.go.com. Retrieved 24 February 2014.
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- How the Crash of Flight 4590 Destroyed Concorde's Mystique. Smithsonian Channel (Documentary). 20 January 2017. Retrieved 16 August 2019.
- "Concorde crash kills 113". BBC News. 25 July 2000.
- The damaged hotel and the scorched field show the impact of the crash, CBS News
- French police and rescue service workers inspect the debris of the hotel and the crashed jet., CBS News
- "A Gonesse, les habitants se souviennent du jour où "le Concorde est tombé"". LaDepeche.fr. LaDepeche.fr. 29 January 2010.
- "Appendix 2 CVR transcript" (PDF). BEA. Retrieved 5 March 2019.
- "ANNEXE 2 Transcription de l'enregistreur phonique" [APPENDIX 2 Transcription of the voice recorder] (in French). BEA. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
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- "Caption to image #16 of set."
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- Brookes, Andrew, Destination Disaster, page 14, Ian Allan, ISBN 0-7110-2862-1
- "N13067 Continental Air Lines McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 – cn 47866 / 149". Planespotters.net. Retrieved 14 October 2015.
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- Lawless, Jill (26 October 2003). "Final Concorde flight lands at Heathrow". Washington Post. Associated Press.
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- "Judge places Continental under investigation in Concorde crash". USA Today. 10 March 2005. Retrieved 2 March 2010.
A French magistrate on Thursday opened a formal investigation of Continental Airlines for manslaughter for the suspected role played by one of its jets in the July 2000 crash of the supersonic Concorde that killed 113 people. Investigating judge Christophe Regnard placed Continental under investigation—a step short of being formally charged—for manslaughter and involuntary injury, judicial officials said.
- "Ex-Concorde head quizzed on crash". BBC News. 27 September 2005. Retrieved 20 December 2014.
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- Bremner, Charles (12 March 2008). "Continental Airlines faces manslaughter charges over Paris Concorde crash". The Times. London.
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The five accused are: John Taylor, the Continental mechanic who allegedly fitted the metal strip to the DC-10, and Stanley Ford, a maintenance official from the airline; Henri Perrier, a former head of the Concorde division at Aerospatiale, now part of the aerospace company EADS, and Concorde's former chief engineer Jacques Herubel; Claude Frantzen, a former member of France's civil aviation watchdog
- Clark, Nicola (1 February 2010). "Trial to Open in Concorde Disaster". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 February 2010.
- Fraser, Christian (6 December 2010). "Continental responsible for Concorde crash in 2000". BBC. Archived from the original on 6 December 2010. Retrieved 6 December 2010.
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- Clark, Nicola (29 November 2012). "French Court Overturns Convictions in Concorde Crash". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 August 2019.
- Families mark 10 years since Concorde crash. Associated Press at the USA Today. 25 July 2010. Retrieved on 27 September 2013.
- Un mémorial pour les victimes du crash du Concorde La zone commerciale s'agrandit Participez au concours Pep's Star La mairie propose de parler de tout Débattez du logement avec Marie-Noëlle Lienemann. [A memorial for the victims of the crash of the Concorde The commercial area is growing Participate in the contest Pep's Star The town hall proposes to talk about everything Debate housing with Marie-Noëlle Lienemann] (in French) Le Parisien. 25 April 2006. Retrieved on 27 September 2013.
- "Mémorial AF4590". club-concorde.org. Retrieved 29 October 2016.
- "The Concorde SST Web Site: History of the aircraft that would become Air France Flight 4590". Concordesst.com. Retrieved 2 October 2011.
- "Seconds from Disaster, Schedule, Video, Photos, Facts and More". National Geographic Channel. Retrieved 23 July 2018.
- Greenberg, Peter (1 February 2010). "What brought down the Concorde?". Dateline NBC. Retrieved 23 July 2018.
- Bramson, Dara (1 July 2015). "Where Is Today's Supersonic Jet?". The Atlantic. Retrieved 23 July 2018.
- "Concorde: Flying Supersonic". Smithsonian Channel. Retrieved 23 July 2018.
- National Geographic Channel (2016), Air Crash Investigation, retrieved 29 October 2016.
- Page 32: "The maximum structural weight on takeoff being 185,070 kg, it appears that the aircraft was slightly overloaded on takeoff".
- Page 159: "14h40m01s... it can be deduced that, for the crew, the aircraft weight at which the takeoff was commenced was 185,880 kg, for a MTOW of 185,070 kg".
- Section 188.8.131.52 "The Fuel in Tank 5" (page 118): "Taking into account these calculations, we may consider that the quantity of fuel in tank 5 was practically that which was loaded on the apron, which represents around 94% of the total volume of the tank".
- Page 155: "In conclusion, nothing in the research undertaken indicates that the absence of the spacer contributed in any way to the accident on 25 July 2000"
- Section 2.2 "Crew Actions" (page 166): "The exceptional environment described above quite naturally led the FE to ask to shut down the engine. This was immediately confirmed by the Captain's calling for the engine fire procedure".
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Air France Flight 4590.|
- Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la Sécurité de l'Aviation Civile
- "Accident on 25 July 2000 at "La Patte d'oie" at Gonesse." (Alternate) (Archive)
- "Accident survenu le 25 juillet 2000 au lieu-dit "La Patte d'oie" à Gonesse." (Alternate) (Archive)
- Preliminary report (in French) (PDF, Archive), published 1 September 2000.
- Interim report (in French) (PDF, Archive), published 15 December 2000.
- Interim report 2 (in French) (PDF, Archive), published 23 July 2001.
- Final report (in French) (PDF, Archive), published 16 January 2002 – the French version is the report of record.
- PlaneCrashInfo.Com – Data Entry on Flight 4590
- Accident description at the Aviation Safety Network
- The Observer – this article mentions other contributing factors
- Disaster, CBS News
- CVR transcript
- All 109 Aboard Dead in Concorde Crash into Hotel Near Paris; 4 On Ground Dead – CNN
- Safety Recommendation(s) (PDF), Washington, DC: National Transportation Safety Board, 9 November 1981, archived from the original (PDF) on 26 August 2009
- "Concorde Incidents & Fatal Accident". Airguideonline.com. Archived from the original on 19 November 2008. Retrieved 2 March 2010.