Metal strip, plane fault blamed in Concorde crash

14th December 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Dec 14 (AFP) - A French legal inquiry into the July 2000 Concorde crash outside Paris that killed 113 people presented findings Tuesday that put part of the blame on the US airline Continental.

PARIS, Dec 14 (AFP) - A French legal inquiry into the July 2000 Concorde crash outside Paris that killed 113 people presented findings Tuesday that put part of the blame on the US airline Continental.

The report by judge Christophe Regnard concluded, after four years of questioning experts and witnesses, that the causes of the crash were two-fold: a structural fault in the Concorde's design, and a titanium metal strip left lying on the runway from a preceding Continental plane.

The metal strip played a "direct" role in the accident, which killed all109 people on board the New York-bound Concorde and four people on the ground, the report said.

But it also said the Concorde suffered a "relative weakness" on the interior surface of its distinctive delta-shaped wings which shielded the fuel tanks.

When the Air France Concorde, speeding down the runway at Charles de Gaulle airport on July 25, 2000, hit the titanium strip, shredding one of its tyres, chunks of rubber were sent through a wing fuel tank.

With the tank ablaze and engine power failing, the supersonic plane plummeted into a hotel near the airport in a fireball.

The spectacular disaster ultimately contributed to the aviation icon being pulled from the skies last year.

Regnard's report said the problem with the weakness of the Concorde's wings was discovered during its years of service but "were not sufficiently noted by relevant parties" such as its maker, Aerospatiale, and France's air safety office, the BEA.

The first recorded instance of the fault being noticed was in a 1979 memo that warned of the sort of wing-penetration accident that occurred in 2000, according to the report.

"Technical solutions to reinforce the wing's lower surface on the aircraft ... were researched in 1979. The work was never carried out until 2001, after the accident," it said.

The Concorde suffered 67 tyre blowouts or wheel damage during its years of service. In 24 of those cases, the plane suffered impacts and in seven instances "the fuel tanks were pierced with one or several holes," the experts consulted in the report said.

Nevertheless, the judge said the design problem was "not a construction defect" and he concluded that the 2000 accident would not have occurred without the presence of the 44-centimetre (17-inch) titanium strip that had fallen off a Continental DC-10 using the same runway five minutes earlier, it said.

The object had a "direct causal role" in the accident, his report said. Investigations showed that the strip, used in engine housings, should have been made of aluminium, a softer alloy which would not have cut the Concorde's tyres.

The component was replaced with the much harder titanium strip by Continental maintenance in Houston, Texas.

According to Regnard's office, "the fact that the strip from the DC-10 was of different material, titanium, than that originally used, had a direct incidence in the Concorde's crash."

That finding could expose Continental to a criminal lawsuit for manslaughter and possibly millions of euros (dollars) in damages.

The US airline last week rejected any responsibility in a strongly worded statement.

"We formally contest that Continental Airlines played a role in the Concorde accident," it said.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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