Investigators: missing Continental part matches one that gashed Concorde tire

Monday, September 4th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PARIS-French investigators said Monday a stray metal piece that gashed a tire of a supersonic Concorde in July _ causing a fire in the fuel tank and dooming the flight _ apparently came from a Continental Airlines plane.

The Continental DC-10 took off from the same runway minutes before the Concorde, which caught fire and crashed into a hotel, killing 113 people, said France's Accident and Inquiry Office.

A Continental DC-10 had a missing part "which appeared to be identical to the metal piece found on the runway after the July 25, 2000, accident," said a statement from the office, known by the French acronym, BEA.

The BEA's preliminary report on the accident, made public Thursday, showed a picture of a bent metal piece 16 inches long.

The statement Monday said a BEA official in Washington noted the absence of the Continental part to the National Transportation Safety Board and other officials.

The part was found to be missing from a space between a fan and a door on the right-wing engine of a Continental DC-10, it was learned earlier in Houston, where Continental is based.

The BEA statement said a piece was missing from a hood on a thrust reverser of the DC-10. It was not immediately clear whether the two pieces referred to in Houston and Paris were the same.

Investigators have all along speculated that the part came from another airplane. The picture shows a bent part, reddish on one side and greenish on the other, with rivet holes.

The BEA was convinced early on that the metal part destroyed a left forward tire. Huge chunks of rubber were then thrust at high velocity toward the fuel tanks in the Concorde's delta-shaped wings, causing a fuel leak and a huge fire.

The flight, filled with German tourists, dived into a small hotel, less than two minutes after takeoff. It was the first accident by the supersonic Concorde since it entered commercial service 24 years ago.

The only two existing Concorde fleets _ in France and Britain _ were both officially grounded in August until further notice.

The Concorde, which flies across the Atlantic at Mach 2, twice the speed of sound, has been the most sophisticated form of commercial trans-atlantic air travel.

According to the BEA, Continental officials were cooperating totally with the investigation.

"We are making no further comment," Catherine Stengel, a Continental spokeswoman in Houston said Monday morning.

At a news conference Friday, BEA director Paul-Louis Arslanian expressed hope that an airline would discover that one of its fleet was missing a part.

Runway 26, from which the Concorde took off, had not been fully swept for more than 12 hours before the flight. The BEA statement did not say exactly how soon the Continental flight took off ahead of the Concorde.

The statement said the time lapse amounted to "several minutes." That would eliminate pointing a finger at airport officials for having postponed a cleaning to allow for a fire drill on the runway. The postponed cleanup was briefly mentioned in the 75-page preliminary report.

The final report on the accident is not expected out for at least a year.