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Archive for Saturday, July 29, 2000

Concorde’s blown tire likely started plane crash

July 29, 2000

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— A tire blew out as the doomed Air France Concorde roared down the runway, France's Transport Ministry said Friday, leading to speculation that debris from the blowout may have triggered a fire in one of the plane's engines.

The ministry statement was the first time a tire blowout has been confirmed and investigators were trying to determine what role it played in sending the luxury jet plunging into a hotel in the town of Gonesse minutes after takeoff.

On Friday, another body was found in the charred rubble of the Hotelissimo, bringing the death toll to 114. Most of the 100 passengers were German tourists about to start the trip of a lifetime -- flying the Concorde to New York, followed by a Caribbean cruise. Nine Air France crew members and five people in the hotel also died.

Blown out tires have been blamed for past brushes with near-disaster, despite Concorde's seemingly spotless safety record.

In 1981, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board reported four "potentially catastrophic" incidents resulting from blown out tires during Concorde takeoffs between June 1979 and February 1981.

The most serious occurred in June 1979 at Dulles airport outside Washington, D.C.

As a Concorde was taking off, two tires on the main left landing gear blew out and tire debris and wheel shrapnel damaged the No. 2 engine and punctured three fuel tanks. A large hole was torn in the wing.

The plane returned to the airport for an emergency landing with fuel pouring from the wing. Design modifications were made after the incident, along with an NTSB recommendation that landing gear not be retracted if a blowout occurs and that any plane suffering a blowout immediately return for an emergency landing at the airport where it took off.

A preliminary report on Tuesday's Paris crash is due to be released at the end of August, but just three days after the tragedy, a sketchy picture of the sequence of events has emerged.

"At least one tire exploded, which could have triggered a chain of events, structural damage, a fire and an engine breakdown," the Transport Ministry said.

An initial Transport Ministry report issued Thursday said tire debris was found strewn along runway 26 where the Concorde took off.

"We can surmise that a tire or several tires on the landing gear exploded, that the debris from the tires got into the air duct of one of the engines," aviation writer and former pilot Germain Chambost told France's LCI television.

He added that a piece of tire in the engine during takeoff could cause "serious damage."

Investigators already know that engine No. 2 failed, that the pilot could not draw up the undercarriage and that engine No. 1 lost power -- once on the runway, and again less than one minute into the flight.

Transport Minister Jean-Claude Gayssot, who has grounded all Air France Concorde flights, said Friday that he wanted across-the-board supplementary security procedures before allowing the supersonic jets to take to the sky again.

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