Landing Scares Concorde Passengers


Monday, July 31st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


NEW YORK (AP) — British Airways Concorde passengers said Monday that thoughts of last week's Air France crash raced through their minds when their luxury supersonic jet lost speed and began reeking of fuel during a London-to-New York trip.

``It smelled like bad perfume,'' passenger Jim O'Shaughnessy said. ``It was kind of a sickly smell, and the concern was that it was actually fuel leaking. People were nervous.''

The plane, whose 57 passengers included entertainers Tony Bennett and George Benson, was diverted to Canada for an emergency landing about 5 p.m. EDT Sunday. No one was injured.

The aborted flight came less than a week after an Air France Concorde crashed just outside Paris, killing 114 people.

O'Shaughnessy, an Internet financial services company owner from Greenwich, Conn., said the British Airways Concorde was about two hours into its trans-Atlantic crossing when passengers noticed a rapid decline in speed.

``The captain came on and said due to an odd odor in the back he was electing to put safety first and make an emergency landing in Newfoundland,'' O'Shaughnessy said. ``We thought that he was acting prudently, he was doing the right thing.''

The jet, Flight 003, landed cleanly in Gander, Newfoundland, Canadian transportation officials said. It was grounded for safety checks.

The passengers were transferred several hours later to a Boeing 737 to complete their trip. The chartered jet landed without incident at John F. Kennedy International Airport about 4:20 a.m. Monday.

Despite the emergency landing and two other incidents over the weekend, British Airways planned to continue operating regular Concorde service out of London and New York on Monday.

``We wouldn't be flying unless we thought it was safe,'' said company spokeswoman Jemma Moore, who called the unscheduled landing a precautionary measure.

Passengers said they remained confident in the plane and would continue to fly Concordes. ``It's still the safest airplane around,'' British Airways passenger Simon Bound said.

Others were just happy to be on the ground.

``It was really a quick descent down onto the ground,'' a weary Kary Deavers said. ``We're just happy to be home. It wasn't a lot of fun.''

Spokesmen for Bennett and Benson did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

Earlier Sunday, another Concorde was unable to take off from Heathrow because of a refueling problem, the airline said. After more than an hour, passengers boarded another Concorde, which arrived safely in New York.

On Saturday evening, fire trucks and ambulances were put on standby at Heathrow after a Concorde flight from New York experienced a mixture of fuel and air in the engine. A loud bang was heard inside the jet, ``something like an engine backfiring,'' a British Airways spokeswoman said.

No injuries were reported in those incidents.

Air France grounded its fleet of five remaining Concordes after the July 25 crash. British Airways briefly halted flights of its seven Concordes but resumed them the next day.

French investigators have been looking into the theory that a burst tire on the plane's undercarriage could have damaged the plane near the engines, causing a fire. Flames spewing from the back of the plane likely were caused by a major fuel leak, experts said Sunday.

Air France Flight 4590 crashed into a small hotel in the town of Gonesse, near Charles de Gaulle airport, just minutes after takeoff. All 109 people on board were killed, as were five people on the ground.