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Concorde Crash Near Paris Leaves 113 Dead

Aired July 25, 2000 - 2:21 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: It's a very active news day. Our principal story, the crash of an Air France Concorde jetliner carrying German tourists on a charter flight to New York that crashed in a horrendous fireball shortly after takeoff from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, and then struck a hotel complex on the ground. At last report, all 109 of the 100 passengers and nine crew aboard the Concorde dead; four on the ground, total of 113 at last report.

Our space and science correspondent Miles O'Brien is here. He's been immersed in the Concorde information for the past several hours.


Lou, I've been on the phone with a lot of pilots who can tell us a little bit about the Concorde and also about the characteristics of flying a delta wing aircraft, which is what the Concorde is. The triangular shaped wings are called delta wings, and that is designed for high-speed travel. It's not so good at lower speeds, which is, of course, what you're dealing with during the takeoff and landing scenario.

Now, not too long ago I got a chance to fly with Don Wylie, who is head of a group called the Texas Air Aces out of Houston, Texas. And he brings in pilots from all over the world to learn how to recover from these drastic situations. He joins us on the line right now, and he can tell us a little bit about what a pilot might have been going through had there been a catastrophic engine failure on takeoff.

Now, just bear in mind it's very early in the game here. This is still a bit in the realm of speculation when we talk about an engine failure, but it certainly will be one of the leading causes as the crash investigators begin their tests.

Don, just take us through it for a moment on a delta wing aircraft, which is what the Concorde is. It's a difficult aircraft to fly in low speed, is it not?

DON WYLIE, TEXAS AIR ACES: Well, no so difficult to fly at low speed. As you said, Miles, it's optimized for high-speed cruise. But the point I would make and, again, it's speculative because I don't even know what angle it hit the ground, or the pitch, or roll attitude, but that airplane -- let's say, speculating again, if one or two engines fail, if they're potted, say, on the left side -- I understand it did roll left some before impact. Again, that's part of the news I've heard.

O'BRIEN: Right, that's what we're hearing.

WYLIE: If that's the case, let's say we lose one and two on the left, the airplane with the thrust on the right by maintaining, of course, would roll left. The pilot's tendency would be to roll back with aderons (ph). Now, if he's pulling at the same time to keep the airplane flying, the pull instinct -- when you were with us we talked so much about -- he's getting high angle of attack and that could lead to a situation, in simple terms, called adverse yawl (ph), where he imparts aderons, the yolk that is, to roll back to the right and the aircraft, in fact, rolls more left.

O'BRIEN: All right, so let's back up.

WYLIE: I don't know if that happened. I haven't seen the tape.

O'BRIEN: Let's back up here, Don, if we could for just a moment.

When we talk about aderons, those are essentially movable surfaces, flaps, if you will, that are on the wing which roll the plane around, tilt it back and forth around an imaginary clock, if you will. Is that...

WYLIE: That is correct.

O'BRIEN: All right, and now, in this case, is this, as best you know, from what you know about the Concorde and delta-wing aircraft in general, is this a recoverable situation if in fact both engines went out on one side?

WYLIE: That would be awfully hard to say, Miles. And again, I don't know what happened. Assuming two engines went on one side, the airplane, I'm sure, is certificated to still climb out. If that's exacerbated by any pull instinct, that is increased angle of attack, that means more drag, and then the adverse aderon affect -- it could well roll to the left or stall even in the climb. I heard one of the witness accounts here that the nose pitched up, that tends to indicate a pull instinct and stalling the airplane in which case, with or without the aderon problem, the airplane stalls and falls back into the ground.

O'BRIEN: All right, and let's -- and for folks at home who have not had the opportunity to fly any sort of aircraft, when you say the "pull instinct," essentially a pilot learns very early on that if you pull back on the control column you go up. That is not always the case, is it?

WYLIE: No, it isn't. And, of course, you can't make the climb -- the airplane climb more than it will. In other words, by pulling you increase granted what you think is the up vector, but you could pull enough to where you don't have the air flow that's required and you stall the wing.

O'BRIEN: And when you talk about a stall in an aircraft, the engines can be running full blast and you get what is called a stall, essentially what that means is there is not enough air flow over the wings, right? It ceases to fly.

WYLIE: Absolutely, Brian (ph). We're talking about stalling the wing, stalling the lift.

O'BRIEN: All right, but in -- when you're in a situation and you're just a few hundred feet above the ground, you've just rolled out on takeoff, the instinct to pull is a very compelling one, and I -- in some cases, if it -- the correct thing to do would be to push down. You may not have enough altitude to do that, right?

WYLIE: That's affirmative. He may well be in a window, or in a wicket there where there is no recovery, and in deference to that crew, I would be quick to make that statement not knowing the details. My point is, we've seen in so many accidents and in our training also that instinct to pull and get excessive angle, that is excessive drag, and then stall is pretty over -- as you said, is pretty compelling.

O'BRIEN: All right, tell us about the kind of training a Concorde pilot would have, not unlike what a regular commercial airline pilot would get. Tremendous amount of simulator time.


O'BRIEN: In the course of those simulator runs, much of the time is spent on these takeoff rolls and when to abort, correct?

WYLIE: That is affirmative. They have what they call V-1 cuts, that is simulating the loss of one or more engines, and they are highly adapt at doing this in their simulator sessions. And I can say with some knowledge that the Concorde, whether it be the British or the French side, that training is extremely well disciplined.

O'BRIEN: So it's almost an automatic response then, when they get to this -- there is a critical speed we call B-1, the pilots call B-1, which is essentially the make-or-break, whether you are going to go flying today, or you're going to hit the breaks and stay on the ground?

WYLIE: Right.

O'BRIEN: And the decision is almost automatic, it's coordinated well with the crew?

WYLIE: That is affirmative. They -- I know one thing, they're very well trained, but there is nothing like those human factors that come in with the real situation.

O'BRIEN: Not what you can do in a simulator in some ways?

WYLIE: Sometimes true. When you add the sensations, the noise, and the real problem and looking at the real ground coming at them.

O'BRIEN: All right, Don Wylie, who heads a group called the Texas Air Aces, who spends a lot of time teaching pilots how to get out of catastrophic failures and unusual attitudes, as it is called in flying. Thanks for being with us out of Houston. We'll toss it back to Natalie.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Miles, thank you.

Again, the people onboard this Concorde were headed to New York, where they were going to get on a cruise ship, and that ship was to take them to the Bahamas, Mexico, Panama, Colombia and wind up in Ecuador.

Right now, we're going to take you back live to Paris.

CNN Paris bureau chief Peter Humi joins us with more about what exactly was impacted when this Concorde crashed. We've heard much about a nearby hotel.

Peter, what can you tell us?


There was quite -- there was probably some quite understandable confusion shortly after news of the Concorde crash. In fact, the plane did come down on a hotel, it's called the Hotel -- Hotelissimo in Gonesse, and it narrowly missed a second hotel just 50 years, or 50 meters away.

Now, according to an employee at the hotel that the Concorde did not crash into, he believed that there were no guests staying at the hotel at the time of the crash and that those who perished inside the hotel were all members of staff. According, again, to the employee of the second hotel that was narrowly missed by the Concorde, two members of staff at that hotel were also very slightly injured. He said they suffered from burns from the amazing impact, the fireball, when the Concorde hit the ground just a short way away from Charles de Gaulle Airport.

One other piece of news, Air France will ground its remaining fleet of Concordes, and that is according to the French minister of transport who spoke a little bit while ago to the French media at the site of the crash. So, once again, to repeat that, Air France will ground all its Concordes for the time being, certainly, I think, we can expect them to be grounded for some time to come, as the investigations into the cause of the Concorde crash today get fully under way -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Peter, we thank you. And as we see this amateur video of -- taken just after the crash, you can appreciate how fortunate the people in that second hotel that seemed untouched there must feel today after this catastrophe just next door to them. Peter Humi, we thank you, and we'll be in close contact.



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