It was a quarter to five in the evening on July 25, 2000. An Air France Concorde crashed after take-off in Paris. The plane came down on a hotel not far from the Charles de Gaulle airport. Among the 113 people killed were 100 mostly German passengers, nine crew and four people on the ground.
The world was left in shock, and the mythical aircraft, which up until then had a relatively good safety record, was grounded. What caused a fire beneath the plane during take-off was the focus of the investigation.
Almost 10 years later Continental Airlines and five men went on trial. Investigators claimed a Continental DC10 triggered the disaster when a small metal strip fell from it onto the runway. They said this punctured the Concorde’s tyres, spraying debris into the underwing fuel tanks and sparking the fire. The charges were denied.
30 years after taking to the skies, question marks hung over the future of the Air France and British Airways Concordes. This was a plane loved by the rich and famous, and admired for its unique characteristics and performance. Getting somewhere fast, in style, had always been the attraction.
During the grounding of the plane, improvements were carried out, including the strengthening of the jets’ fuel tanks. It seemed there was a strong desire to make sure that Concorde flew again, and not come to an end in such a tragic way.
The plane did return to service in 2001 but the days of luxury supersonic travel were numbered. Concorde was finally withdrawn from service for good in 2003. The airlines talked about the high cost of maintenance and a fall in passenger numbers.
The Concorde trial came to an end in May of this year and a verdict is due in December. The airline and the five individuals are facing charges of involuntary manslaughter. But some defence lawyers argue the fire began before the Concorde ran over the metal strip on the runway.
The accused include a welder who worked for Continental and his supervisor. Also on trial were the head of testing of the Concorde programme, the plane’s former chief engineer, as well as the former head of France’s civil aviation body.