A supersonic tragedy: Air France 4590.
20 years ago, on the 25th of July 2000, an Air France Concorde thundered down 26R at Paris; Charles De Gaulle airport. However, what no one knew was that this flight would mark the beginning of the end of the supersonic aircraft.
On the day of the accident; F-BTSC, a 25 year old Air France Concorde, was operating a charter flight for a German holiday company as AF4590. The flight was due to be operated from Paris (CDG) to New York (JFK) with the passengers due to board a cruise ship in New York bound for Sydney for the Olympics of that year.
During a preflight check, the pilot conducting the walk-around discovered that a part needed replacing in engine 2. This issue was rectified but pushed the departure back an hour. During this time the captain, Christian Marty, requested extra fuel to be added to the fuel tanks-this meant that the aircraft would be two tonnes over its maximum takeoff weight. The captain anticipated that the extra fuel would be burned off before takeoff, but his decision would prove to be detrimental to the fate of Air France 4590. At 16:35 the aircraft was pushed back and five minutes later the aircraft reached its takeoff runway; 26R. Nevertheless, only 800KG of the extra two tonnes was burned through. The aircraft thundered down the runway, in true Concorde style, at 16:43 V1 (the point where takeoff must continue and can not be aborted) then three seconds later the crew heard an unfamiliar noise. The noise was caused by a tyre on the left hand side bursting after hitting a strip of metal from a continental DC-10 that had taken of a few minutes before the Concorde. A chunk of the tyre flew up and ruptured the fuel tank and severed wires. Within seconds a fire was trailing the ascending aircraft.
At this point, ATC exclaimed “Air France 4590, you have flames behind you”. Once the pilots heard this they completed memory checks and shut down the engines on the left and turned the aircraft towards Le Bourget Airport, just 4 miles away. However, as the aircraft still ascends it starts to loose airspeed and with only two working engines: it’s loosing speed fast. Their efforts were in vain as the fire was getting more intense by the minute and was by then burning through the control surfaces, limiting the pilots’ ability to manoeuvre the aircraft. At 16:43:59; GPWS (Ground Proximity Warning System) and stall warnings were flooding the cockpit…the Concorde stalled and crashed into the Les Relais Bleus Hotel in Gonesse, just one mile from the runway at Le Bourget. All 109 people on board tragically died as well as four on the ground.
Until the Crash, Concorde was one of the world’s safest aircraft. The Crash, rising fuel costs and the September 11 attacks all contributed to the aircraft’s demise. After the crash, Air France grounded its Concorde fleet with British Airways following in quick succession. Commercial service resumed in November 2001 after a £17 million (2001) safety improvement service. All Concordes where retired in 2003, with the last Concorde touching down at London’s Heathrow Airport as BA002 on the 24th of October.
With the aircraft in service for 27 years, the final landing of the aircraft was a moment of sadness for many. The aircraft had captured the hearts of millions, with it being an icon of French and British engineering. The Concorde once hailed ‘The supersonic Swan’ is now a museum piece with one parked up next to runway 27L at Heathrow.
If you want to know more about the Concorde and its history, read our article about the Concorde: “Concorde, The Subersonic Airliner, and why it Stopped Flying”