Nearly 10 years after Concorde crashed into a hotel in Paris, killing 113 people, a French court is to begin proceedings to establish exactly who was to blame. Continental Airlines are accused of causing the accident, when an illegal titanium repair patch fell off one of their planes onto the runway. Minutes later it punctured one of Corcorde’s tyres causing fragments of hard rubber to puncture a fuel tank, thus triggering the fire as the plane took off.
Defence lawyer Olivier Metzner, fresh from defending Dominique de Villepin, contests this theory however. He says: “This isn’t the official version. We will contest this version of events and establish that Concorde caught fire 8 seconds and around 700 metres before it ran over the repair patch.”
100 passengers, 9 crew-members and 4 hotel employees died in the tragedy, which left a million pieces of debris scattered over a wide area. Collecting them and painstakingly reconstructing the plane is partly the reason why the case has taken so long to come to court.
But during that time experts have questioned the plane’s design, pointing out that Concorde’s tyres had burst on many previous occasions, and that this had also previously resulted in peirced fuel tanks. They say this could have been due to a design fault.
Says aviation security expert, Ronald Schmid: “Our investigations have shown that such incidents – I mean the burst tyre damaging the wings – have occurred at least 10 times before this fatal accident. So I do think the authorities as well as Air France management have good reasons, very good reasons, to check whether or not the Concorde aircraft was at that time still a safe aircraft.”
Following the accident Air France and British Airways abandoned their supersonic flights and Concorde was taken out of service in April 2003.