Five die as Charles de Gaulleairport walkway collapses

24th May 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 23 (AFP) - At least five people were killed and three others injured Sunday when the roof of a walkway that had opened just 11 months ago collapsed at Paris' main Charles de Gaulle airport, officials said.

PARIS, May 23 (AFP) - At least five people were killed and three others injured Sunday when the roof of a walkway that had opened just 11 months ago collapsed at Paris' main Charles de Gaulle airport, officials said.

"Rescue workers are still working to clear the rubble, so we have five victims, maybe six. Nothing's certain yet," Paris airport authority (ADP) president Pierre Graff told a news conference.

Several tonnes of concrete, metal bars and glass panelling came crashing down on an arrival and departure passageway at the airport's futuristic Terminal 2E shortly before 7:00 am, strewing rubble over a 30-meter area.

A section of the glass-encased walkway caved in, falling onto service vehicles parked below.

The new terminal was inaugurated only last June, amid delays caused by security concerns and trade union accusations that management was rushing the completion deadlines for the building.

Laurent Vibert, a spokesman for the fire service, described the scene as "a disaster zone, like an earthquake".

Rescue teams with sniffer dogs were called in to search the rubble for survivors. None of the wounded suffered life-threatening injuries.

Police officers were direct witnesses to the disaster as it struck. They were on the scene, having spotted dust coming from a crack in the roof about 25 minutes before if collapsed and were trying to cordon off the area.

Officials said that none had been injured.

French President Jacques Chirac expressed his "deepest sympathies" for the families of the victims and was joined by Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who will go to Charles de Gaulle on Monday, in calling for an immediate investigation.

Prosecutors launched an inquiry to find out who or what was responsible for the casualties. Graff said an administrative probe would also be launched Monday.

"ADP is absolutely open about this. I want the truth (about what caused the disaster) to be known as quickly as possible. We want to know and understand," he said.

Paul Andreu, the architect who designed the terminal was expected back in Paris on Monday after learning about the accident during a visit to China, Graff added.

"The architect and engineers are stunned," he said.

Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin, speaking from the scene of the accident, said both Chirac and Raffarin "want the inquiry to get under way as quickly as possible".

Transport Minister Gilles de Robien ruled out the possibility of an attack, but said that the real causes were still unclear.

The investigation was likely to concentrate on faults in the terminal design or possible short-cuts taken in the construction.

The walkway roof collapsed as Air France flights from Newark and Johannesburg had just arrived and another to Prague was just about to depart - had it occurred at a peak travel time and not on a Sunday morning, the toll could have been far higher.

The terminal was immediately evacuated and some 200 firefighters backed by police and army officers were rushed to the site.

An unidentified Asian man and a Czech woman were among the dead and a Chinese and an Ivorian woman were among the injured.

So far no French nationals have been found among the dead and injured, said ADP chief doctor Michel Clerel.

The identity and nationality of the other victims were not immediately known.

The accident caused the delay of dozens of Air France flights and the diversion of several others to the other main airport in Paris, Orly. Terminal 2E is used by the SkyTeam alliance, which along with Air France groups Aeromexico, Alitalia, CSA Czech Airlines, Delta and Korean Air.

Graf apologised for the inconvenience caused to passengers and airlines due to the accident.

The opening of the terminal, the latest addition to the burgeoning Paris hub, was delayed for a week last June after fire officials and engineers ruled that safety norms had not been met - an overhead light had lost its fittings and crashed down during an inspection tour.

Management at ADP, a state-owned body which runs Paris airports, subsequently blamed the delay on the workforce - prompting an angry reaction from the CGT union, which accused Air France management and ADP of setting an unrealistic deadline for the opening.

"Everyone knew - from the progress of the work - that (the deadline) was unreasonable," the CGT said.

Terminal 2E plays a vital role in plans by ADP and Air France to transform Charles de Gaulle into Europe's primary air hub, ahead of London's Heathrow and Frankfurt.

Built at a cost of EUR 750 million (USD 900 million), it consists of a 450-meter (1,500-foot) sleekly curving central body leading to a 650-meter jetty which serves as the departure area, from which 17 hallways take passengers to their aircraft.

Graff said the terminal handles seven million passengers a year and about 20,000 on a normal day, with plans for expansion to 10 million by the end of this year.


Subject: French news

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