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Air France Flight 4590

Amateur photograph showing the fuel tank on fire
Accident summary
Date 25 July 2000 (2000-07-25)
Type Foreign object damage
Site Gonesse, France
Passengers 100
Crew 9
Fatalities 113 (109 from aircraft, 4 on ground)
Survivors 0
Aircraft type Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde
Operator Air France
Tail number F-BTSC
Flight origin Charles de Gaulle International Airport
Destination John F. Kennedy International Airport
Continental Airlines Flight 55
Incident summary
Date 25 July 2000 (2000-07-25)
Type Mechanical failure (source of foreign object)
Site Paris (Charles de Gaulle), France
Aircraft type McDonnell Douglas DC-10
Operator Continental Airlines
Tail number n/a
Flight origin Charles de Gaulle International Airport
Destination George Bush Intercontinental Airport

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 25 July 2000 it crashed in Gonesse, France. All one hundred passengers and nine crew on board the flight, and four people on the ground, were killed.

The flight was chartered by German company Peter Deilmann Cruises and all passengers were on their way to board the MS Deutschland cruise ship in New York City[1][2] for a 16-day cruise to South America.[3]



American passenger airplane McDonnell Douglas DC-10 (flight of Continental Airlines) lost a titanium part during a takeoff. During the Concorde's take-off run from Charles de Gaulle Airport, this piece of debris on the runway ruptured a tyre which subsequently burst. The debris was about three centimetres wide and 43 centimetres long. A large chunk of tyre (4.5 kg) struck the underside of the aircraft's wing structure at well over 300 km/h. It did not puncture the number five fuel tank just above the landing gear, but instead sent out a pressure shockwave that eventually ruptured the tank at the weakest point. Leaking fuel rushing over the top of the wing was ignited by an electric arc in the landing gear bay or through contact with severed electrical cables. At the point of ignition, engines one and two both surged and lost all power, but slowly recovered over the next few seconds. A large plume of flame developed; the Flight Engineer then shut down engine two, in response to a fire warning and the Captain's command.[4]

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 due to the severed electrical cables. The aircraft was unable to climb or accelerate, and it maintained a speed of 200 knots (370 km/h; 230 mph) at an altitude of 200 feet (61 m). The fire caused damage to the port wing, and it began to disintegrate - essentially evaporating after reaching extreme temperatures. Engine one 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 three and four to attempt to level the aircraft but with falling airspeed they lost control, crashing into the Hôtelissimo[5] Les Relais Bleus Hotel[6][7] near the airport.[1]

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

As the CVR transcript recorded it, the last intelligible words of the crew were (translated into 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)."

Nationalities of passengers and crew fatalities

A memorial to the crash


Nationality Passengers Crew Total
 Germany 96 0 96
 France 0 9 9
 Denmark 2 0 2
 Austria 1 0 1
 United States 1 0 1
Total 100 9 109

Concorde grounded

The Concorde had been the safest working passenger airliner in the world according to passenger deaths per distance travelled. The crash of a Concorde was the beginning of the end of the aircraft's career.[9]

A few days after the crash, all Concordes were grounded, pending an investigation into the cause of the crash and possible remedies.[10] Air France Concorde F-BVFC was allowed to return home from its stranded position in New York, empty of passengers.

Accident investigation

A DC-10 similar to the one that dropped the metal piece.

The official investigation was conducted by France’s accident investigation bureau, the BEA, and it was published on 14 December 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 (Continental Flight 55) to Houston that had taken off about four minutes earlier. This metal fragment punctured the Concorde's tyres, which then disintegrated. A piece of rubber hit the fuel tank and broke an electrical cable. The impact caused a shock-wave 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 two in response to a fire warning but were unable to retract the landing gear, which hampered the aircraft's ability to climb. With engine number one 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.[11] According to the report, the piece of titanium from the DC-10 had not been approved by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.


The investigators concluded that:

  • 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.
  • The aircraft was slightly overloaded by about a ton.
  • The aircraft was airworthy and the crew was qualified. The landing gear that later failed to retract had not shown serious problems in the past. 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.
  • Aborting the take-off would have led to a high-speed runway excursion and collapse of the landing gear, which also would have caused the aircraft to crash.
  • 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.

Previous tyre incidents

In November, 1981, the American NTSB sent a letter of concern, which included safety recommendations for the Concorde, to the French BEA. That communiqué was the result of the NTSB's investigations of four Air France Concorde incidents, during a 20 month period, from July 1979, through February, 1981. The NTSB described those incidents as “potentially catastrophic,” because they were caused by blown tyres during take-off. The NTSB also expressed concern about the lack of adequate remedies, on the part of the French, as well as improper crew responses to those incidents.

  • June 13, 1979: The number 5 and 6 tyres blew out during a take-off from Washington, DC Dulles Airport. Shrapnel thrown from the tyres and rims damaged number 2 engine, punctured three fuel tanks, severed several hydraulic lines and electrical wires, in addition to tearing a large hole on the top of the wing, over the wheel well area.
  • July 21, 1979: Another blown tyre incident, during take-off from Dulles Airport. After that second incident the “French director general of civil aviation issued an air worthiness directive and Air France issued a Technical Information Update, each calling for revised procedures. These included required inspection of each wheel/tyre for condition, pressure and temperature prior to each take-off. In addition, crews were advised that landing gear should not be raised when a wheel/tyre problem is suspected.”
  • October, 1979: Tyres number 7 and 8 failed during a take-off from New York's JFK Airport. In spite of the well-publicized danger from the previous incidents, the crew ignored the new safety recommendations and raised the landing gear and continued on to Paris. There was no subsequent investigation by the French BEA or the NTSB, of that incident.
  • February, 1981: While en-route from Mexico City to Paris, Air France (F-BTSD) blew more tyres during another take-off at Dulles Airport. Once again, the crew disregarded the new procedures by raising the landing gear. The blown tyres caused engine damage, which forced the flight to land at New York JFK Airport. The NTSB's investigation found that there had been no preparation of the passengers for a possible emergency landing and evacuation. The CVR was also found to have been inoperative for several flights, including one which followed a layover in Paris.[12][13]

To save on weight, the Concorde was designed to take off without the assistance of flaps or slats. That required a significantly higher air and tyre speed, during the take-off roll, which imposed a much greater centrifugal force load on the tyres. That higher speed increased the risk of tyre explosion during take-off. When the tyres did explode, much greater kinetic energy was carried by the resulting shrapnel (the kinetic energy of an object being directly proportional to the square of its speed), increasing the risk of serious damage to the aircraft. A thicker skin on the bottom side of the wings could have prevented serious damage from an exploding tyre, but that would have added too much weight, cancelling out most of the advantage of not having flaps or slats.

Alternative theories

British investigators and former French Concorde pilots looked at several other possibilities that the report ignored, including an unbalanced weight distribution in the fuel tanks and loose landing gear. They came to the conclusion that the Concorde veered off course on the runway, which reduced take-off speed below the crucial minimum. The aircraft had passed close to a Boeing 747 known to be carrying French President Jacques Chirac who was returning from the 26th G8 summit meeting in Okinawa, Japan.[citation needed]

They argued that the Concorde was in trouble before take-off, as it was overweight for the given conditions, with an excessively aft centre of gravity and taking off downwind. They claim that when it stood at the end of the runway, ready to roll, it was more than six tonnes over its approved maximum take-off weight for the given conditions.[14]

Moreover, it was missing the crucial spacer from the left main landing-gear beam that would have made for a snug-fitting pivot. This compromised the alignment of the landing gear and the wobbling beam and gears allowing three degrees of movement possible in any direction. The uneven load on the left leg’s three remaining tyres skewed the landing gear disastrously, with the scuff marks of four tyres on the runway showing that the plane was skidding out of control.[citation needed]

Finally, Brian Trubshaw and John Cochrane, the Concorde's two test pilots when the aircraft was being developed in the early 1970s, set the aft operating limit at 54 per cent - beyond that, they found, it risked becoming uncontrollable, likely to rear up backwards and crash, exactly as Flight 4590 did in its final moments over Gonesse. However, Flight 4590's centre of gravity went beyond 54 per cent, with the BEA stating a figure of 54.2 per cent, while a senior industry source said that the true figure may have been worse: with the extra fuel and bags, it may have been up to 54.6 per cent.[14]

These investigators were frustrated by the lack of cooperation from French authorities, including an unwillingness to share data and the immediate resurfacing of the Concorde's takeoff runway after the crash. They alleged that the BEA was determined to place the sole blame of the accident on the titanium strip to show that the Concorde itself was not at fault. The piece of metal from the DC-10 was found 7 meters forward, and 37 meters to the right of where the Concorde's tyre blew.[citation needed]

The BEA's interim report maintained that the leftward yaw was caused not by incorrectly assembled landing gear but by loss of thrust from the number 1 and 2 engines. Data from the Flight Data Recorder Black Box indicates that the aircraft was centred on the runway and accelerating normally up until the point where the tyre burst occurred. The instantaneous wind speed at the closest anemometer to the take-off point was recorded as zero knots.[citation needed]

Modifications and revival

The accident led to modifications being made to the 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.

Just before service resumed, the September 11, 2001 attacks took place, resulting in a marked drop in customer numbers, and contributing to the eventual end of Concorde flights.[15] Air France stopped flights in May 2003, while British Airways ended its Concorde flights in October 2003.

Criminal investigation

On 10 March 2005 French authorities began a criminal investigation of Continental Airlines.[16]

In September 2005, Henri Perrier, the former head of the Concorde division at Aerospatiale, and Jacques Herubel, the Concorde chief engineer, came under investigation for negligence: 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.[17]

On 12 March 2008, Bernard Farret, a deputy prosecutor in Pontoise, outside Paris, asked judges to bring manslaughter charges against Continental Airlines and four individuals:[18]

  • John Taylor, a Continental mechanic
  • Stanley Ford, a Continental maintenance manager
  • Henri Perrier of Aerospatiale
  • Claude Frantzen, a former employee of the French airline regulator.

Charges against Jacques Herubel were reported to have been dropped,[18][19] but on 3 July 2008, confirmation of the trial, including Herubel, was published.[20] The trial started on 2 February 2010, and will most likely continue until May, with a verdict expected in late 2010. If convicted, Continental Airlines stands to pay $500,000 and two of its employees will face up to three years in jail. Also facing fines or a custodial sentence will be the designers of the plane, who prosecutors say knew that the plane's fuel tanks could be susceptible to damage from foreign objects, as well as a French official responsible for the regulation of the plane's safety.[21]

Continental will claim in court that the aircraft was already on fire when it passed over the titanium strip.[22]



  1. ^ a b "Concorde Crash," The Canadian Encyclopedia.
  2. ^ "'Black boxes' recovered at Concorde crash site." CNN. 25 July 2000. Retrieved on 3 June 2009.
  3. ^ Miller, Marjorie and Carol J. Williams. "Engine Repair to Concorde Cited in Crash Inquiry." Los Angeles Times. 27 June, 2000. Part A, 1. Retrieved on 3 June 2009.
  4. ^ Accident on 25 July 2000 at La Patte d’Oie in Gonesse (95) to the Concorde registered F-BTSC operated by Air France, BEA, 
  5. ^ "
  6. ^ pe_04.html, CBS News
  7. ^ [1], CBS News
  8. ^ "Mori to send messages to Chirac, Schroeder over Concorde." Japan Policy & Politics. 31 July 2000. Retrieved on 3 June 2009.
  9. ^ "Caption to image #16 of set."
  10. ^ "DIARY-France to February 25". Reuters. Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  11. ^ Endres, Günter. Concorde. St. Paul, Minnesota: MBI Publishing Company, 2001. ISBN 0-7603-1195-1. P. 110-113.
  12. ^ Safety Recommendation(s), Washington DC: National Transportation Safety Board, November 9, 1981, 
  13. ^ "Concorde Incidents & Fatal Accident". Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  14. ^ a b "Concorde: For the Want of a Spacer". 2001-06-24. Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  15. ^ "LATEST NEWS Archive". Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  16. ^ "Judge places Continental under investigation in Concorde crash". 2005-03-10. Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  17. ^ "Ex-Concorde head quizzed on crash". BBC News. 2005-09-27. Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  18. ^ a b "Prosecutor seeks Concorde charges". BBC News. 2008-03-12. Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  19. ^ Bremner, Charles (March 12, 2008). "Continental Airlines faces manslaughter charges over Paris Concorde crash". Times Online. 
  20. ^ "Five to face Concorde crash trial". BBC News. 2008-07-03. Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  21. ^ "Trial to Open in Concorde Disaster". The New York Times. 1 February 2010. Retrieved 1 February 2010. 
  22. ^ "Concorde crash manslaughter trial begins in France". BBC News. 2010-02-02. Retrieved 2010-03-02. 

External links

Coordinates: 48°59′08″N 2°28′20″E / 48.98556°N 2.47222°E / 48.98556; 2.47222


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