Gonesse, France. July 25, 2000-- The pilot of an Air France Concorde passenger jet with 100 passengers and nine crew that crashed into a hotel shortly after takeoff from Charles De Gaulle Airport, just outside Paris, today, killing all aboard and four on the ground, had reported trouble with the number 2 engine just before liftoff, according to initial examination of the cockpit voice recorder.
Flight AF4590, a German charter whose tourists were enroute to New York for a cruise aboard the MS Deutschland, crashed at 4:44 local time after failing to gain altitude on takeoff. Interior Ministry said four people died at the 72-room Relais Bleus hotel, which is in the small town of Gonesse. At least a dozen other people in the hotel were injured. They were in good condition, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin said.
All the passengers were German except for one American and two Danes, Air France said.
Several eyewitnesses have come forward, including Air France President Jean-Cyril Spinetta, who said he had witnessed the crash but didn't specify from where. He told reporters at the airport: ``For those who were witnesses, of whom I was one, it seems that there was a fire in one or more of the engines on takeoff.''
There was insufficent runway and too much speed to allow for braking to stop the aircraft, so the pilot elected to take the ship airborne, where heīd be in a position to return to the airport. But apparently, the problems with the number 2 engine spread to the number 1 engine, also on the left side, because the Concorde should have been able to fly perfectly well on three of its four Rolls Royce engines. Instead, the jet appeared to have stalled, rolled inverted and plunged into the small town of Gonesse.
French television showed a horrifying still-photograph of the plane flying low over the airport, flames already trailing from its midsection, confirming the aforementioned accounts. This particular jet had been in service since 1980, flown 12,000 hours and had just had a mechanical checkup July 21, which some speculate may have a bearing on its fate, since accidents are sometimes inadvertently caused by the very maintenance that’s suppose to keep them safe. This was the first Concorde to crash in its thirty-year history.
Popular with the world’s elite, the plane flies above turbulen ce at nearly 60,000 feet, where it cruises at better than 1,350 mph. A roundtrip Paris-New York ticket costs $9,000, roughly 25 percent more than regular first class. A London-New York roundtrip runs $9,850, but the trip takes only about 3 1/2 hours, less than half that of regular jetliners.
Thirteen of the jets are operated by Air France and British Airways.
On Jan. 30 of this year, a Concorde cockpit alarm sounded, warning of a fire in the rear cargo hold. The jet made an emergency landing at London's Heathrow Airport, but engineers found no problem.
The previous day, one of four engines had shut down on a Concorde as it approached Heathrow.
Air France officials maintain that their current fleet is fit to fly safely until 2007.