The 9th Anniversary of Air France's Flight 4590 Concorde Tragedy - An Engineer's Aspect


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Saturday, July 25, 2009

The 9th Anniversary of Air France's Flight 4590 Concorde Tragedy

Failure is the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently. ~Henry Ford

Sometimes, a seemingly small structural failure, like a strip of Titanium falling onto a runway, can have tragic consequences...

The first fatal Concorde accident happened on Tuesday, July 25, 2000. A Concorde 203, F-BTSC, Air France Flight 4590 out-bound from Paris to New York crashed 60 seconds after take off. All 109 people (100 passengers and 9 crew) on the Concorde were killed, as well as four people in a local hotel on the ground.

An Air France Concorde Jet. Source:

Below is the account of the Concorde accident from The Post Standard, Wednesday, July 26, 2000, from Syracuse, New York. Click on the images for a larger version.

About the Concorde
Source: citing British Airways.
  • Capacity: 100 passengers, and 2.5 tonnes of cargo.
  • Seating: The front cabin has 40 seats, and the rear cabin 60 seats, both offering a single-class "R", or supersonic, brand of service.
  • Range: 4,300 miles (6,880 kilometers)
  • Engines: Four Rolls-Royce/SNECMA Olympus 593s, each producing 38,000 pounds of thrust with reheat.
  • Take-off speed: 220 knots (250 m.p.h. 400 kilometers per hour).
  • Cruising speed: 1,350 m.p.h. (2,150 kilometers per hour/Mach Two), at 60,000 feet (18,181 meters)
  • Landing speed: 187 m.p.h. (300 kilometers per hour)
  • Length: 203 feet 9 inches (62.1 meters)
  • Wingspan: 83 feet 8 inches (25.5 meters)
  • Height: 37 feet 1 inches (11.3 meters)
  • Fuel capacity: 26,286 Imperial gallons (119,500 litres/95,600 kilograms)

How the Concorde Crashed

From BBC News, Wednesday, 25 July, 2001:
"A French investigation into last year's Concorde crash has confirmed a burst tyre was the cause of the disaster.
The French Accident Investigation Bureau ruled out speculation that poor maintenance had contributed to the tragedy which killed all 109 people on board and four on the ground.

The plane burst into flames shortly after take-off from Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport on 25 July 2000.

A metal strip on the runway set in train the catastrophic chain of events. Debris from the puncture pierced the under-wing fuel tanks and started the fire that brought the plane down."

How the Concorde Crashed. Source: BBC News.

National Geographic's Seconds From Disaster Series delved into the sequence of events leading up to the Concorde's tragic accident.

Description: COPYRIGHT: NATIONAL GEOGRPHIC 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.

The official investigation was conducted by the 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.

The Concorde's Unique Wing Design. Source: BBC News.

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. According to the report, the piece had not been approved by the US Federal Aviation Administration.

Air France Concorde flight 4590 crash in Gonesse, France, July 25 2000. These animations are 3D reconstitutions available for purchase at

Below is a compilation of some actual footage of that fateful flight and some photographs.


From Wikipedia, "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 services 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. Air France stopped flights in May 2003, while British Airways ended its Concorde flights in October 2003."

Photo shot by a Japanese businessman from a 747 on an adjacent taxiway. Concorde has passed V1 and has just started its rotation. Source: Concorde Accident.

MSNBC reported:
"A French judge ordered Continental Airlines and five people to stand trial on charges of manslaughter for the 2000 crash of a Concorde jet that killed 113 people, a prosecutor said Thursday.

French investigators say the crash was caused in part by a titanium strip from a Continental Airlines DC-10 that was lying on the runway when the supersonic jet took off. The judge’s order outlines eight years of painstaking efforts to try to pin down who exactly could be tried in court.

Two of the individuals to stand trial are employees of the U.S. carrier, said a statement from the office of Marie-Therese de Givry, prosecutor in the Paris suburb of Pontoise.

Two others were employed by Aerospatiale, the maker of Concorde and the precursor of plane-maker Airbus. The fifth is an employee of the French civilian aviation authority."

Below is the video report from MSNBC: