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At Least 113 Die In Concorde Disaster

Chartered Jet Slams Into Hotel Outside Paris After Takeoff

Jul 25, 2000
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All 109 people on board an Air France Concorde jet that crashed shortly after takeoff near Paris Tuesday are dead, French police said. The plane, chartered by a German tour company, was headed for New York when it struck a hotel, killing at least four people on the ground.

EYEWITNESSES told reporters that Flight 4590 took off just after 5 p.m. local time from Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport and was struggling to gain altitude. A Concorde pilot said it appeared the Air France plane had engine failure, adding that just after the plane left the ground, its nose pitched up straight and then the jet fell to the left and crashed into a hotel.

Sid Hare, a Federal Express pilot at a hotel nearby, said he could see smoke trailing from two engines. "It started rolling over and backsliding down to the ground," he said. "It was a sickening sight, just a huge fireball."

Firefighters were pouring streams of water on the completely blackened hulk of the plane, which is barely recognizable. Clouds of smoke continued to billow over the site hours after the crash.

Aviation Week reporter Jim Asker told MSNBC Cable that the accounts by a Concorde pilot who saw the crash suggest it was due to engine failure, but what caused it would take time to investigate.

French officials said the plane had at least three children on board.

GERMAN TOURISTS ON BOARD

NBC's Amy Roth Turnley reported from Paris that eyewitnesses said the force of the crash was intense.

The jet, loaded with 19,500 pounds of fuel, crashed into the Les Relais Bleus Hotel, which has 72 rooms as well as studio apartments. It is a moderately priced hotel typical of small hotels near airports.

Earlier in the day, there were reports that there was one survivor but NBC's Jim Maceda said the possible survivor was one of five people inside the hotel restaurant - not the plane.

In Washington, President Clinton said he "wanted to extend the deepest condolences of the American people to the families of those who are lost."

The plane had been chartered by Deilmann, a German tour company, and the passengers were on their way to New York to join a cruise ship in New York harbor, the M.S. Deutschland.

Deilmann runs a 14-day cruise that includes stops in Norfolk, Port Canaveral, Nassau, Havana, Playa del Carmen, Mexico, San Andres Island, Colombia, the Panama Canal, and Manta, Ecuador.

The passengers were to board the ship at 4 p.m. Tuesday and had the options of visiting Niagara Falls, the United Nations, the Empires State Building, the World Trade center, and have a musical performance before the ship's departure two days from now. Cost of the cruise ranges from $4,300 to $12,600.

The Concorde, which crosses the Atlantic at 1,350 mph, has been considered among the world's safest planes, although its fleet is aging. The first Concorde plane flew in 1969 and Air France and British Airways are the only operators, flying 13, including the one that crashed Tuesday.

The plane is popular with celebrities, world-class athletes and the rich. It flies above turbulence at nearly 60,000 feet, crossing the Atlantic in about 31/2 hours, less than half that of regular jetliners. A roundtrip Paris-New York ticket costs about $9,000.

PAST INCIDENTS

Air France officials have said in the past that their current fleet is fit to fly safely until 2007.

The planes have some of the best pilots in the world and are meticulously maintained. The Concordes' only scare came in 1979, when a bad landing blew out a plane's tires. The incident led to a design modification.

On Jan. 30 of this year, a Concorde aircraft made an emergency landing at London's Heathrow Airport - the second such landing within a 24-hour period by one of the supersonic jets. A cockpit alarm had sounded, warning of a fire in the rear cargo hold, but engineers found no problem.

The previous day, one of four engines had shut down on a Concorde as it approached Heathrow.

On Monday, after British Airways grounded one of its Concordes because small cracks spotted on its wings had grown longer, Air France said it too had detected cracks in the wings of one of its Concordes, but added there was no danger to passengers. An Air France spokeswoman said "microcracks" had appeared on four of the airline's six Concorde aircraft a few months ago.

Two of the four affected planes were currently in service and the other two were grounded for an unrelated, periodical review.

The spokeswoman said the cracks were under control and Air France's president on Tuesday denied the cracks had anything to do with the crash, suggesting instead it was engine failure.

At British Airways, engineers detected 2-inch cracks in the rear-most wings of the entire seven-plane fleet a few months ago, company spokesman Peter Middleton said. After ultrasonic testing and consultations with aviation authorities, all seven planes were allowed to remain in service, he said.

"It was not a major structural element of the wing," Middleton said. "It was declared not safety critical."

But the crack in one of the planes' wings was found to have grown to 2.6 inches last week, forcing the company to ground it for maintenance repairs. It is expected to return to the skies by September.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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