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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Repairs Delayed Doomed Plane in Paris




PARIS -- Technicians worked on an engine of the doomed Concorde airliner just before it took off on its fiery flight to disaster with the loss of 113 lives, Air France said Wednesday.


As France grounded its remaining five Concordes pending initial investigations into Tuesday's catastrophe, the carrier said the work had been carried out at the request of the crew, causing a delay to the flight.


"At this moment we absolutely cannot know" whether the work was linked to the accident, spokesman Fran?ois Brousse told a news briefing.


He said the work had delayed the flight but that the crew would not have left Paris if they had had any doubts there was still a problem.


A trail of fire streaming from its tail, the supersonic airliner plunged to the ground and into a hotel in the town of Gonesse minutes after taking off from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport on a German-chartered flight to New York.


Air France has confirmed that at least one of the four engines of the sleek, drop-nosed airliner, in service since 1980, was spewing flames as it left the ground.


All 100 passengers, 96 of them Germans booked on a cruise of a lifetime, and nine crew perished in the wreckage. A further four people were killed on the ground and French officials said 12 people were also injured.


Witnesses said the pilot appeared to have tried to turn the aircraft round before, in the words of one onlooker, it "flipped over like a pancake." Some witnesses said he seemed to have headed the plane away from a heavily populated area.


The dead from the plane included two Danes, an American and an Austrian. French officials said Wednesday that two of the four people killed on the ground were Polish women.


The crash, the first of an Anglo-French Concorde in more than two decades of speeding the rich and famous across the Atlantic, sent shock waves through the aviation world and into the homes of a public lured by the thrill of supersonic flight.


Three French inquiries are under way into the crash, including an internal Air France probe, a judicial investigation and an official accident board inquiry assisted by a panel of nine aviation experts named by the Transport Ministry.


Transport Minister Jean-Claude Gayssot said Air France Concordes would stay on the ground until initial investigations, including analysis of data from flight recorders recovered from the crash, showed what went wrong.


"This can take two or three days. I'm not in a position to say whether we'll make a decision tonight," Gayssot said.


"I don't want to take any risks. Flights will resume when all the necessary guarantees are in place," he told Europe 1 radio.


British Airways, which operates seven Concordes, resumed its services Wednesday after canceling two flights Tuesday in the immediate aftermath of the Paris crash.


"We have complete confidence in our Concorde aircraft," said Mike Street, BA's director of customer services and operations.


"We believe there is no technical, safety or operational evidence to suggest that Concorde should not operate safely in the future," Street said in a statement.


German Transport Minister Reinhard Klimmt, who was at the crash site on Wednesday, said French officials had told him engine failure was believed to be the cause of the disaster.


"The French authorities are saying that clearly there was engine damage," Klimmt told German television.


Air France has ruled out any link to microscopic cracks that the French carrier and British Airways said this week had been detected on the distinctive delta wings of some of their planes.


French Interior Minister Jean-Pierre Chevenement confirmed on Wednesday that sabotage was not suspected.


"When you suggest something, you need to have the basis of an argument to back it up. There isn't one," he said.


Tuesday's flight, AF 4590, had been chartered by the German tour operator Peter Deilmann to take holidaymakers who had paid up to $10,000 each to New York to join a 15-day cruise down into the Caribbean and through the Panama Canal to Ecuador.


Relatives of the victims were being flown to Paris on Wednesday and Thursday on flights Deilmann said had been paid for by Air France. He said it was not clear when they would be able to set about the grim task of identifying the bodies.


Eighty-six of the 113 victims had been recovered from the crash site by mid-morning on Wednesday. Local authorities in Gonesse said the task of retrieving the corpses had been complicated by the nature of the disaster.