Tomorrow, Continental Airlines will have to answer to a French court about allegations it knowingly installed an unapproved part on one of its DC-10 aircraft. That small metal strip is partially blamed for the crash of Air France Concorde flight 4590 on July 25th 2000.
On that fateful day, 113 people lost their lives when the fuel tanks of the Concorde caught fire, sending the plane crashing through a hotel just outside the airport. 109 people died on the plane, and four were killed in the hotel.
The court case has taken ten years to prepare, and follows a 2004 investigation that concluded the crash was caused by the strip of metal that had fallen off a Continental plane that took off minutes before Concorde came down the runway. The inquiry reached the conclusion that the titanium strip had blown a tire to shreds, sending debris into an engine, and blowing holes in a fuel tank.
Along with Continental and two of its employees, the court will also hear testimonies from Concorde program officials and the boss of the French aviation institute. According to the court, the Concorde program managers ignored years of problems, including several identical incidents that thankfully did not end as disastrous.
The main objective of the trial is to determine levels of blame for those responsible for the crash. Continental plans to fight the allegations, claiming the engine was already on fire before the plane hit the piece of metal. In the end, it’ll most likely come down to how much was known about the weakness of the Concorde design, and why a simple piece of metal could cause such a catastrophic crash.
The disaster ended more than the lives of the 113 people involved in the crash – it also started the end of the supersonic passenger flight era. After the crash, the entire Concorde fleet was taken out of service for fuel tank upgrades, but she took her final flight on November 25th 2003.