- The Washington Times - Friday, July 28, 2000

PARIS The Air France Concorde crash that killed 113 persons left behind a trail of debris, including tire parts on the runway, as one engine caught fire and another malfunctioned, investigators said Thursday.

They said the plane wasn't even able to lift its landing gear.

Those were among the details the French Transport Ministry released two days after the supersonic plane plowed into a hotel outside Paris while spewing huge flames from its tail. The new information emerged after officials decoded the two recorder black boxes, which provided vital clues for accident investigators.

The ministry's assessment confirmed a total failure of the No. 2 engine on the inside of the left wing, as had been presumed. But the assessment added that the No. 1 engine right next to it also malfunctioned, losing some of its power during the short flight.

The statement said the pilot, Capt. Christian Marty, told the control tower after takeoff that he could not lift the landing gear. It said debris from the burning plane was found all along its short route, with parts of the tires left on the runway.

The ministry said it could take several days to complete the analysis of the 600 pieces of technical information on the recovered flight data recorder. They had to be analyzed and then compared with information decoded earlier from the other black box, the voice recorder.

Elsewhere Thursday, French and German officials and blue-uniformed airline crews joined weeping relatives of the crash victims for a memorial service at Paris' 18th-century Madeleine Church.

A steady stream of flowers arrived at the church as the building filled up with mourners, including somber Air France crew members. Tourists mingled with Parisians for a moment of quiet reflection before the start of the memorial for the victims, most of whom were German.

President Jacques Chirac, who did not attend the service, sent a large bouquet of pale pink roses and other flowers. Other more modest bouquets came from ordinary Parisians who wanted to show their sympathy.

At the scene of the accident, workers finished removing the bodies of all 113 victims from the charred and blackened debris and transferring them to a morgue in Paris for the difficult process of identification.

French authorities trying to determine what turned the sleek delta-winged jet into a furnace that dropped from the sky were focusing on the Rolls-Royce engines that power the world's fastest jetliners at twice the speed of sound across the Atlantic. Officials said the fire that consumed the Concorde seconds after its takeoff from Charles de Gaulle airport probably started in the No. 2 engine.

Air France said mechanics had worked on the No. 2 engine just before the takeoff. But government officials said it was too early to say whether the repairs were linked to the accident.

Le Figaro, meanwhile, reported investigators were not ruling out the possibility of human error. The Liberation daily also cited Andre Turcat, a longtime supersonic pilot, as saying the pilot's decision to head toward nearby Le Bourget Airport instead of returning to Charles de Gaulle was "imaginable but risky."

Ninety-six of the victims were Germans heading for the vacation of a lifetime supersonic jet to New York, then a five-star cruise in the Caribbean, through the Panama Canal to Ecuador and, for some, a trans-Pacific voyage to the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.

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