Airframes Wiki

BAe/Aérospatiale Concorde 203 was operated by Air France. It first flew on 31 January 1975, and was destroyed in a crash in Paris on 25 July 2000 after 11,989 hours. The crash spelled the beginning of the end of the Concorde's career




The accident[]

Air France Flight 4590 was a Concorde]] flight from Charles de Gaulle International Airport near Paris, France to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, New York, and operated by Air France. On July 25, 2000 it crashed in Gonesse, France. All 100 passengers and nine crew on board the flight, as well as four people on the ground, were killed.


During the plane's take-off run from Charles de Gaulle Airport, a piece of titanium debris on the runway shredded a tyre, which then burst. The piece was about 3 centimetres wide and nearly 50 centimetres long. A large chunk of tyre (4.5 kg) struck the underside of the aircraft's wing at over 300 km/h, causing the fuel tank above the landing gear to fail from the inside out, possibly by a hydrodynamic pressure surge. Leaking fuel was ignited by an electric arc in the landing gear bay or through contact with the hot parts of the engine (the latter is disputed by the British investigators). At the point of ignition, engines 1 and 2 both surged and lost all power, but slowly recovered over the next few seconds. A large plume of flame developed; the crew then shut down engine 2 in response to a fire warning.

Having passed V1 speed, the crew continued the take-off but they could not gain enough airspeed on the three remaining engines, because the undercarriage could not be retracted. The aircraft was unable to climb or accelerate, and it maintained a speed of 200 knots (370 km/h) at an altitude of 200 feet (60 m). The fire caused damage to the port wing. Engine 1 surged again but this time failed to recover. Due to the asymmetric thrust, the starboard wing lifted, banking the aircraft to over 100 degrees. The crew reduced the power on engines 3 and 4 to attempt to level the aircraft but with falling airspeed they lost control, crashing into the Hotelissimo Hotel near the airport.

The crew was trying to divert to nearby Le Bourget Airport, but accident investigators say that a safe landing with the flight path the aircraft was on would have been highly unlikely.

Flight AF4590 carried 96 Germans, two Danes, one American and one Austrian as well as nine crew members, all of whom were killed, along with four people on the ground. The flight was chartered by German Peter Deilmann Cruises and all passengers were on their way to board a cruise ship in New York City. [1]

As the CVR transcript recorded it, the last intelligible words of the crew were (in English):

Co-pilot: "Le Bourget, Le Bourget, Le Bourget."

Pilot: "Too late (unclear)."

Control tower: "Fire service leader, correction, the Concorde is returning to runway zero niner in the opposite direction."

Pilot: "No time, no (unclear)."

Co-pilot: "Negative, we're trying Le Bourget" (four switching sounds).

Co-pilot: "No (unclear)."

Concorde grounded[]

Concorde had been the safest working passenger airliner in the world according to passenger deaths per distance travelled, although the Boeing 737 fleet acquires more passenger miles and service hours in one week than the Concorde fleet acquired in its entire service career. The crash of the Concorde was the beginning of the end of its career.

A few days after the crash, all Concordes were grounded, pending an investigation into the cause of the crash and possible remedies. Air France Concorde F-BVFC was allowed to return home from its stranded position in New York, empty of passengers.


The official investigation was conducted by France’s accident investigation bureau, the BEA, and it was published on December 14, 2004. It concluded that the crash was caused by a titanium strip, part of a thrust reverser, that fell from a Continental Airlines DC-10 that had taken off about four minutes earlier. This metal fragment punctured Concorde's tyres, which then disintegrated. A piece of rubber hit the fuel tank and broke an electrical cable. The impact caused a shockwave that fractured the fuel tank some distance from the point of impact. This caused a major fuel leak from the tank, which then ignited. The crew shut down engine number 2 in response to a fire warning but were unable to retract the landing gear, hampering the aircraft's climb. With engine number 1 surging and producing little power, the aircraft was unable to gain height or speed, entering a rapid pitch-up then a violent descent, rolling left. The impact occurred with the stricken aircraft tail-low, crashing into the Hotelissimo Hotel in Gonesse. [2] According to the report, the piece of titanium from the DC-10 had not been approved by the US Federal Aviation Administration.


The investigators concluded that:

  • The aircraft was airworthy and the crew was qualified. The landing gear that later failed to retract did not show serious problems in the past. However, despite the crew being trained and certified, no plan existed for the simultaneous failure of two engines on the runway, as it was considered highly unlikely.
  • The aircraft was slightly overloaded, being about a tonne too heavy.
  • After reaching take-off speed, the tyre of the number 2 wheel was cut by a metal strip lying on the runway, which came from the thrust reverser cowl door of the number 3 engine of a Continental Airlines DC-10 that had taken off from the runway several minutes before. This strip was installed in violation of the manufacturer's rules.
  • Aborting the take-off would have led to a high-speed runway excursion and collapse of the landing gear, crashing the plane anyway.
  • While two of the engines had problems and one of them was shut down, the damage to the plane's structure was so severe that the crash would have been inevitable, even with the engines operating normally.

Modifications and revival[]

The accident led to modifications being made to Concorde, including more secure electrical controls, Kevlar lining to the fuel tanks, and specially developed, burst-resistant tyres. The new-style tyres would be another contribution to future aircraft development. However, just before services resumed, the September 11 attacks took place, resulting in a marked drop in customer numbers and leading to the eventual end of Concorde flights. Air France stopped flights in May 2003, while British Airways ended its Concorde flights in October 2003.

On March 10, 2005 French authorities began a criminal investigation of Continental Airlines.[3]

As of October 2005, Jacques Herubel, a former Aérospatiale engineer, is under investigation for negligence leading to the crash. A report stated that the company had more than 70 incidents involving Concorde tyres between 1979 and 2000, but had failed to take appropriate steps based upon these incidents.[4]


  1. CNN archived story
  2. Endres, Günter. Concorde. St. Paul, Minnesota: MBI Publishing Company, 2001. ISBN 0-7603-1195-1. P. 110-113.
  3. USA Today
  4. BBC

External links[]