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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Crash Shocks Germany on Eve of Holidays




BERLIN -- The German tourists who boarded the Concorde jet that crashed near Paris Tuesday planned their supersonic flight across the Atlantic as the prelude to a sumptuous ocean cruise that billed itself as a revival of the Roaring '20s.


The passengers were flying to New York to board a luxury ocean liner, the MS Deutschland, for what promised to be the excursion of a lifetime. The ship would sail to Florida, the Bahamas, Cuba, Mexico, the Panama Canal and Colombia en route to the main attraction: a rendezvous next month with southern right whales at the peak of their breeding season off the coast of Ecuador. From there, it would continue on to Australia, Tahiti, Bali and South Africa.


But for about 100 of the 510 passengers booked aboard the Deutschland, the journey ended in an inferno at the French village of Gossenes, just beyond the runway of Charles de Gaulle Airport.


A German government tally of the dead counted 99 passengers f 96 Germans, two Danes and an Austrian. Air France said one more passenger, an American, also was aboard and was killed. Nine French crew members f the pilot, co-pilot, navigator and six flight attendants f and four people on the ground also died when the plane plowed into a hotel. The names of the dead were not released Tuesday night.


As the awful news flashed across Germany's television screens, many seemed physically shocked by the tragedy at a time when virtually the entire nation is poised to pack up and depart for summer vacations.


Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der postponed his own travel plans, which included a three-week holiday on the Spanish island of Mallorca. He said he was shaken by the enormous loss of life after French President Jacques Chirac telephoned him with the news.


"Germany and France are united in their horror over the accident, in mourning for the victims and in sympathy for their families," Schr?der said.


Peter Deilmann, a prominent German tour operator who chartered the Concorde to offer his passengers a high-class connection to his company's ship in New York, appeared stunned, his face creased with grief, as he acknowledged in a television interview that all but a few of those killed were his clients. "I can't be 100 percent certain, but nearly all were German," he said, his voice cracking with emotion.


The German Embassy in Paris set up a crisis center to help identify the dead while the Foreign Ministry tried to cope with a deluge of frantic calls from relatives of the victims. Schr?der sent Germany's transport minister, Reinhard Klimmt, to the scene of the crash and the government promised to arrange travel to the site for close relatives of the victims.


Schr?der and the German Cabinet were scheduled to attend an ecumenical memorial service for the victims in the chancellor's hometown of Hanover.


Deilmann said his company also was trying to reach families of the victims, who he said came from throughout the country.


Deilmann had chartered the Concorde to give some of his highest-paying clients a luxurious start to their holiday. The cost of the 16-day tour f including flights from Frankfurt to Paris and New York and from Ecuador back to Frankfurt f ranged from $4,000 for a two-person cabin to $10,500 for an exclusive suite.


"This was a special charter flight that coincided with the fact that the ship was docked in New York. Since we are a very deluxe operation with our ship based there, it was only logical to tie in a flight aboard the Concorde for some of our clients to join the other passengers," said Deilmann's assistant, Richard Escadale.


In New York on Tuesday, the gleaming red and white vessel with the markings MS Deutschland towered over pier 88 on Manhattan's West Side. Built to recall the elite privilege of the Roaring '20s, the cruise liner is meant to exude glamour, with crystal chandeliers, a ballroom, a palm-filled winter garden and a salt-water swimming pool sheltered by a glassed-in promenade.


Tuesday afternoon, passengers and crew members returned to the ship from tours of New York City unaware of the crash and astonished to find the pier crowded with reporters and a tight cordon of New York police.


Deilmann said Tuesday night the ship's cruise would proceed on schedule despite the tragedy, saying a change would be unfair to more than 400 other passengers aboard.


"There's no sense in letting the ship just lie there," Deilmann said. "Life goes on."