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Concorde Crashes Near Paris Leaving 113 Dead

Aired July 25, 2000 - 2:49 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Update now on one of our major stories of the day, here's Natalie.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: And that is the first ever crash of a Concorde supersonic jetliner. A Concorde crashed shortly after takeoff from Charles de Gaulle Airport. It was set to land this afternoon at JFK Airport. All 109 people aboard were killed, that's 100 passengers, nine crewmen. The passengers all from -- believed to be German nationals who were going to embark on a cruise once arriving in New York, a cruise that would take them to the Caribbean and winding up in Ecuador.

Right now, the investigators are just now beginning their work at the scene after the fire was put out from this crash a couple of hours ago. Four people were also killed on the ground. Several more people were injured when this plane hit a hotel, in the middle of the field, about a couple of miles north of Charles de Gaulle. The people injured are said to be in good condition.

For more now, we take to you CNN's Jim Bittermann, who is at the scene of the crash -- Jim.


Actually, it's a couple of miles southwest of the -- of Charles de Gaulle Airport and about one mile north of Le Bourget (ph) Airport. The crash occurred at an intersection of a number of -- four or five small country roads. The plane came down narrowly missing one hotel and directly hitting another, and it was in that one on the ground that we believe that the four people you were talking about lost their lives. The -- there is very little left of the plane to see. Firemen continue to pour both water and foam onto the wreckage, and there is still smoke coming up from the wreckage. It's basically heaps of twisted and blackened metal.

There is very little to -- from which one could assume that this was an aircraft. In fact, there are -- also one of the things that we are seeing as the smoke clears are small orange cones, the kind of traffic cones that police put out. We believe that they may be marking the positions of bodies that are -- that the investors are going to take into account when they conduct their investigation. We have not seen any bodies taken away from the crash site, though we do see a number of -- perhaps three or four dozen small orange traffic cones that have been laid out in the crash area. The crash area is -- the debris field is about 100 yards in diameter. It is fairly compact and it should in many ways help investigators, because they shouldn't have too much difficulty finding the black box, which will be the real indication of what happened. This is something -- given the state of the Concorde fleet, the number of flights per day and what not, this is something they are going to want to determine right away, is what was the cause of this crash?

British Airways, as you've been reporting, has already announced that they are going to cancel their flights this evening of Concordes until, I guess, they find out exactly more about the cause of this crash, and I think there will probably be some quite close inspections being -- going on -- on the Concorde fleet -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Jim, have you been able to talk with any eyewitnesses there at the scene about what they saw just before this Concorde crashed?

BITTERMANN: There are a number of people who report exactly the same thing, which seems to give some credence to the reports that you had, that in fact, the back, left side of the aircraft was on fire as it left the ground. The fire must have occurred either right at takeoff, or just after the plane left the ground, because we are not that far off the end of the runway.

We are only about three miles from the end of the runway, and a number of eyewitnesses, very reliable eyewitnesses, including aircraft crews and ground personnel, were watching, as people do whenever a Concorde takes off -- it's such a dramatic sight, it's such a dramatic looking aircraft that people kind of stand and stare often, and that is something else that may give investigators a clue. It could well be that there may be amateur video around of this particular takeoff and that amateur video may be of great help for the investigators as well.

ALLEN: And also, since you're there at the scene, it's hard to tell from the pictures that we are able to see whether there is -- there are any big pieces of this airplane that investigators might be able to investigate. From what we can see, Jim, it look like burned, twisted metal is all they have to deal with here.

BITTERMANN: Well, that is basically it. But if it, in fact, is a problem with one of the engines, generally speaking, the engines stay fairly intact in crashes and so there shouldn't be too much a problem finding the engines in this wreckage. I -- but there is nothing recognizable as an aircraft that I can see.

ALLEN: We thank you, Jim Bittermann, one of the correspondents working this major story for us today, on the scene there of this crash of a Concorde near Charles de Gaulle Airport.

WATERS: Also keeping track of developments, our Paris bureau chief Peter Humi, he reports in now with the latest from Paris -- Peter.

PETER HUMI, CNN PARIS BUREAU CHIEF: Just to confirm something that Jim was mentioning out on the site of the crash, he said British Airways had grounded its fleet of Concordes and Air France has also said that it would be grounding its remaining Concordes, that information coming from the ministry of transport. The minister himself, of course, was out on the crash site accompanying Lionel Jospin, the French Prime Minister. Now, Lionel Jospin in speaking to reporters out on the site saying that there were some survivors on the ground, those people that had been in the hotel.

Information that we have is that there were no guests staying at that -- the hotel, the hotel in which the Concorde crashed, of course. But those that might have perished on the ground were members of the hotel staff. As Jim reported, it narrowly missed a second hotel just 50 yards or so away. Rescue services have been using that hotel partly as a emergency field hospital and also partly as a morgue, as they begin recovering the bodies from the site of today's tragedy.

So just to recap, the latest bit of information we have is that Air France has now grounded its fleets of Concorde jets. And also, another piece of interesting news that we did get from Air France was that this plane, the one that crashed today received a total overhaul, engines, everything, about 10 months ago in September of 1999, and there was nothing unusual about the plane. Obviously, they will be checking the maintenance records, the books that are kept, the logs on such inspections and maintenance, and those will be, obviously, sifted through very carefully, as will the debris on the ground by flight accident investigators.

Back to you.

WATERS: All right, Peter Humi in Paris. We, of course, will continue keeping close track of this story.

In Atlanta, I am Lou Waters.

ALLEN: I am Natalie Allen.



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