Concorde Engines Were
On Fire Before Take-Off
Say Eyewitness
LONDON (Reuters) - A British businessman who saw the ill-fated Air France Concorde take off said on Tuesday that the supersonic jet's left-side engines were on fire before it left the ground.
The Concorde carrying German tourists crashed in a ball of fire soon after take-off from Charles de Gaulle airport near Paris, killing 109 people on board and four more on the ground.
"The Concorde (was) to our immediate left as he accelerated down the runway, the engine was already smoking," said Darren Atkins, who was in another plane waiting to depart from the airport.
"As the aircraft drew level with us, this is before it started to take off, the left hand engines were visibly on fire," he told Sky television in an interview from Zurich.
"They were burning very heavily, so much so in fact, that on the tarmac was some debris that had clearly fallen off the engine and was in fact still on fire after the aircraft had departed."
Doomed Pilot's Last Act Was To Save Village
"Fault In Engine Number Two" - Concorde Pilot Just Before Crash
PARIS (AFP) - A French judge told Wednesday how a Concorde crew struggled with their blazing supersonic jet before it crashed just after taking off in Paris.
The pilots knew the airliner's port engine was on fire as it took off and attempted to turn it round to make an emergency landing, Elisabeth Senot, a first deputy prosecutor who is leading an inquest into the 113 deaths, told reporters.
Senot released details of the final conversation between the crew of Flight F-4590 and the control tower at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport before it took off on Tuesday afternoon.
According to the magistrate, the control tower noticed even as the jet sped along the runway that one of the engines on the port side was on fire.
She said the "control tower gave permission for take-off at time zero. At 56 seconds the control tower signalled to the plane that it was on fire at the rear.
"The captain replied, 'fault in engine number two,'" she said.
"After that it seems the flames became extremely large because (the fire) was once again signalled by the control tower, and the crew replied that they were no longer in a position to stop.
"So it took off, and the captain, I imagine, or the co-pilot, indicated that they were directing the plane to Le Bourget, in other words that it would do a half-turn rather than turn all the way round to the runway (at Charles de Gaulle airport).
"It was during this turning manoeuvre that it crashed on the hotel," she said.
Air France admitted on Wednesday that engineers had repaired a thrust-reverser in one of the two port-side engines of the Concorde shortly before it took off and crashed onto the Hotelissimo hotel at Gonesse.
A statement said engine number two -- the interior engine on the left wing -- was inspected and repaired by a maintenance crew, who were called out by the airliner's captain.
Eyewitness and photographic evidence shows that it was a port-side engine which caught fire on take-off from Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport and caused the crash two minutes later.
In addition to the inquest, the French prosecution department has also started an investigation for "manslaughter and unintentional wounding," following the crash, judicial officials said.
Three magistrates have been assigned to the case, the officials said.
French Transport Minister Jean-Claude Gayssot said Air France's remaining five Concordes would be grounded at least until after analysis of the flight recorders.
In London, a British Airways flight to New York took off on schedule. "We have complete faith in the aircraft," a BA spokesman said.
Apparently anticipating difficult legal action over the crash, Air France said the company would do everything to compensate the families of victims.
A spokesman for the national carrier, Francois Brousse, said: "The families of victims will quickly receive advanced payments so they can cope with difficult and painful situations."
From Charles Bremner and Martin Fletcher in Paris link
The final act of the pilot of the stricken Concorde was to steer his doomed plane away from the village of Gonesse, witnesses said last night.
The pilot saved thousands of lives, Christine Turpin told reporters hours after the crash. Without his courage "it would have been even more of a catastrophe".
Madame Turpin, manageress of a Shell service station on the edge of the village a few miles north of Paris, said that she was driving to work when she saw the aircraft in the air right in front of her.
"I was in the car. I saw the Concorde in flames. It was heading on its normal flightpath, but when the pilot saw the trouble he was in, he turned around towards a field to crash. The pilot knew what was going on. He was a pilot who saved the lives of the people of Gonesse."
Mme Turpin said that the plane crashed with a mighty explosion. There were smoke and flames everywhere. Firemen arrived almost immediately but could do nothing.
Staff staggered out of Les Relais Bleus hotel near the crash site to see a nightmare scene of flames leaping hundreds of feet into the sky as fuel gushed from the wreckage, feeding the fire.
Rubble covered the fields in the area. "We just couldn't go near it," a receptionist said.
A gendarme near the crash site, on the N17 highway, said: "The plane just disintegrated when it hit the ground. There was a huge explosion. It incinerated the hotel [the Hotelissimo]. There was no chance for the people inside."
A man outside Les Relais Bleus said that relatives of hotel workers were held back as firemen fought the blaze. "People were lying on the ground weeping and screaming, it was terrible," he said.
Jean-Philippe Giraud, a 30-year-old driver, was still sweating as he recounted how four hours' earlier the Concorde had crashed within sight of the hotel where he was staying in Gonesse. "I am lucky to be alive," he said, as he told how he was woken by a huge explosion that blew out the windows of his room a few hundred yards from the crash site. He said that smoke and flames were so thick that he could see practically nothing.
He ran to a neighbouring hotel where three friends were staying. I was worried for my colleagues. They were in a state of shock but they were OK." M Giraud said that he helped to clear furniture from the hotel dining room to create space to lay out the corpses from the accident.
As dusk fell last night smoke covered the sky above Gonesse. Convoys of ambulances and police cars sped in and out of the sealed area around the crash site. Onlookers were ushered away because of the toxic fumes. Aircraft taking off from Charles de Gaulle airport continued flying at frequent intervals over the burning wreckage.
As journalists and the curious descended from Paris and across northern France, the police threw up roadblocks on all the approach roads, causing traffic chaos.
One driver said: "It was like a bomb exploding. It was a real hell. There were bits of aeroplane raining down. Plastic, rivets, pieces of aluminium. The hotel was just completely flattened somewhere inside the blaze."
Other witnesses described their horror as they watched the Air France Concorde, its engines roaring and with flames pouring from its left wing, struggle to stay airborne before falling on its side into the small hotel.
"It was like the Apocalypse," said Christian Micquel, who saw the drama from a nearby office building.
"I saw all the flames and watched the pilot turn. It looked as if he was going to make it round but it just dropped and disappeared. There was a huge explosion. It was a terrifying thing to see."
Norbert Stansin, a local resident who was passing on a nearby road, said that he thought the plane was going to hit his car. "We always glance up because the Concorde makes such a noise but this was different," he said. "It was horrible. It was roaring. I saw it trying to turn and then it just headed back straight towards us, rolling around.
"I just shut my eyes and there was a noise like a huge car crash. The ground shook. Then an explosion."
Samir Hossein, 15, a student in Gonesse, was playing tennis with friends when they saw the aircraft. "We saw it lose altitude. It chopped off those trees and headed to the ground. The pilot tried to bank but the plane rolled over and smacked into the hotel, nose first and turned over," he said.
"We saw flames shoot up 120ft and there was a huge boom. The pilot tried to yank it up, but it was too late."
President Chirac, who had just landed at Charles de Gaulle from Tokyo, was among those who watched the Concorde roar down the runway with flames pouring from its left wing.
The pilot of M Chirac's Air France airliner told the passengers that he was making way for the Concorde. Aides said that the President looked out of the window. "We saw there were flames and everything was wrong," one said.
Dominique Mirson, who was driving through the de Gaulle industrial zone, watched from underneath the stricken plane: "There were long flames belching out of the wing. It just came down and exploded. Those poor people."
A motorist, still trembling, said: "There was a blast and something slammed into my car. I didn't know what hit it. It was metal and it was on fire."
Bernard Rival, an amateur pilot who was driving towards the airport, said: "I was watching the Concorde take off from runway 26 [facing west] at five minutes to five.
"I was about three kilometres away. It had just got a little altitude when flames shot out from under the left wing, about twice the length of the fuselage.
"It staggered back and the pilot must have kicked the rudder to stabilise it, but it veered violently round and just went straight into the ground. It just stalled cold and dropped. There was an explosion and a mushroom cloud. I'm still in shock from seeing it."
Dave Ingram, a Briton watching from the Hilton Hotel adjacent to the runway, said: "I heard the plane take off and I saw a lot of black smoke. It was already on fire as it proceeded down the runway.
"There was a tremendous flame and you could see this ball of smoke going skywards. The nose was pointed skyward as if in the process of turning. Then it stalled and fell from vision.
"There was silence for seconds. You couldn't see the plane any more, just the black smoke."
Jamie Ritchie, a British businessman, was in a meeting near Paris when it was disrupted by the noise of the plane's straining engines.
He said: "From the meeting we overheard a loud roaring noise. We also saw the tail of the Concorde. Then the plane crashed. There was a large plume of smoke, some thousand feet high."
Julian Pyke, another Briton, who works at the airport, said: "I think a lot of people were waiting for a big bang which never came - I still don't know how, but a very large plume of smoke swiftly arose and it was obvious that it had crashed."
John Guntripp, a former air crash investigator, said: "Even with two engines lost, the remaining two engines should have more than sufficient power capable of taking the engine into a climb, so what occurred was a very serious disruption of the aircraft's flying control.
"Conversations between the pilot and air traffic control will be recorded on one of the black boxes.
"The on-flight technical record will be checked to make sure the plane had been correctly serviced."

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