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Concorde Crash: Investigation Centers on Engine Repair; Woman Leaps From Hotel to Escape Death; Germans Hold Memorial for Victims

Aired July 26, 2000 - 2:00 p.m. ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: We begin in Paris, where investigators are talking with witnesses and collecting wreckage today trying to find out why an Air France Concorde failed to take flight. It crashed in a ball of fire within walking distance from the runway, destroying the sleek, supersonic jet and killing 113 people. Today, the focus remains on the No. 2 engine.

CNN's Jim Bittermann begins this hour's coverage at Charles de Gaulle Airport.


JIM BITTERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Air France says now that in the hour before the ill-fated aircraft took off, the pilot requested that mechanics repair a thrust reverser on the left inboard engine.

Thrust reversers are used to brake a plane on landing and are not used on takeoff.

FRANCOIS BROUSSE, AIR FRANCE SPOKESMAN: The Concorde could have taken off without this reverse operating. But the captain wanted it to be replaced. Since it could not have been repaired on the 24th because there was no piece available, it was changed just before the taking off by using a piece taken out of another Concorde.

BITTERMANN: The Air France spokesman said it is not clear that there is any link between the thrust reverser and the cause of the crash. But a report quoting a French prosecutor says that the crew radioed air controllers as the plane went down that they were having problems with the same engines that had the thrust reverser trouble.

At an airport terminal not far from the Concorde departure lounge, a special center was set up to receive relatives of the victims. And they came all morning long.

Almost at the same time, the remains of those who died were being removed from the accident scene and taken to a central morgue for identification by forensic scientists.

Also removed from the accident scene were the flight data and voice recorders which were being analyzed at the National Accident Investigation Bureau at nearby LeBourget Airport. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: CNN's Jim Bittermann and Christiane Amanpour are both covering this story for us in Paris. And Christiane joins us right now with the latest.

And, Christiane, any word from investigators when we'll hear about information they glean from the cockpit voice recorder or flight data recorder?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTL. CORRESPONDENT: Well, we were told that these were discovered late last night. And at that time we were told that it would take 24 to 48 hours to analyze and provide information about what they may contain.

There was a press conference earlier this evening here by the minister of transportation, and he has not yet provided any details and they are saying that they continue to pore over those data recorders and then they will release the information when they have it. But no word yet on when exactly that might be.

ALLEN: And, all the while, British Airways resumes its Concorde flights. Any reaction to that?

AMANPOUR: Well, British Airways, yes, you rightly say, resumed its Concorde flights. The first one took off this morning to New York, and it also has an evening flight. Here in Paris, Concorde is still grounding its remaining five aircraft. They will not, they say, let them take off again pending the full investigation and seeing what kind of results come out of the black box and other kinds of questions and investigations that they need to find out before they allow the fleet to get airborne again.

And, incidentally, as Jim Bittermann alluded to, also, they have set up crisis counseling centers for the crews of the remaining Concordes who say -- who they say are deeply shocked by what happened. But they do continue to point out that Concorde has a near-perfect record in the air and that the crews are amongst the best, the maintenance is amongst the best, and they are saying their crews are not too afraid to fly and they will continue to fly when Concorde gets airborne again.

ALLEN: Christiane Amanpour, live from Charles de Gaulle Airport.

And now to Lou.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Just about every major disaster will produce stories of personal drama. Alice Brooking is one such story. The young British woman literally jumped from the hotel in Gonesse seconds before the Concorde slammed into it.

ITN's John Draper (ph) talked with her family at her home in Kent, England.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JOHN DRAPER, ITN REPORTER (voice-over): At the Kent home of Alice Brooking's family this morning, they were still in shock at how close she came to death. Alice was on the phone to her sister Natalie when the Concorde crashed.

NATALIE BROOKING, SISTER: All I heard her say was, oh my God, what's that enormous bang? And, I mean, I've never heard anything -- like I knew it wasn't, you know, just something small. First of all, I thought it was an earthquake, and then I remember her saying that she was on a motorway, so I thought there'd been a big crash on the lorry. It literally sounded as though a lorry had come into her room. It was just enormous. And obviously then the phone whet dead and I was just like panicking going, Alice, Alice, and just nothing. She had to jump out the window. She said she didn't have any shoes on or anything and she was just told by everybody, just run, run, run, so she just ran across the fields, motorways, everything, until eventually somebody found her, obviously in a state of shock. And she managed to get a hold of somebody's mobile and call my parents.

HUGH BROOKING, FATHER: All she did was scream saying, I'm alive, but only just because she jumped out of the window. The receptionist in the hotel had been wonderful, had screamed at her to jump. She jumped into his arms. That probably saved her life. And they just sprinted across the field and the hotel just exploded.

DRAPER: Alice's sister is traveling to Paris today to see her. Her French-born mother is, of course, thankful that she survived, but worried about how Alice will cope with the shock.

FRANCINE BROOKING, MOTHER: Well, yes, yes, it is a relief that she's alive. We are very pleased that she's alive. I'm concerned about her mental state and how much scar, mental scar she will have. I'm very pleased.

DRAPER: The family know that Alice could so easily have been one more of the victims. Four people at the hotel did not survive the Concorde crash. They were among the 113 who died.

John Draper, ITN.


ALLEN: France and Germany are nations in mourning today. French President Jacques Chirac paid respects to relatives of the Concorde victims. He and his wife, Bernadette, met with the families at a town hall in Gonesse. Residents of the Parisian suburb say the Concorde pilot spared the town from greater disaster by steering the plane toward a field.

In Germany, a similar memorial for the people who died in the disaster. Here's CNN's Matthew Chance in Hanover.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Germany is mourning its dead, and this service is the country's first official display of grief for the victims of the Concorde tragedy.

Gathered here in a small chapel at the Expo 2000 World Fair in Hanover, the German leader, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, spoke of the country's respect and sorrow for the lives lost.

GERHARD SCHROEDER, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): We are standing here powerless and we can only show our respect, our sorrow for the victims. This is our only way out.

CHANCE: Leading the service in prayer, senior figures of the Protestant and Roman Catholic Church, both calling on the German people to keep their faith in God, but both also dwelling on the tragedy that tore so many people from joy and expectation to death.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a very moving and terrible event. They are flying to holidays and the next moment they are dead. I think that's so terrible that we can only do a service.

CHANCE: For churchmen and officials of the German government gathered here, this is a public show of deep loss.

(on camera): It was a solemn memorial, but one attended mainly by officials of the German government. Very few members of the public were present and there were no relatives of crash victims.

Across Germany, though, over the coming days, there may be more emotional gatherings if and when the remains of loved ones are eventually brought home.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Hanover, Germany.




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