The Fastest Commercial Plane Ever Ended in A Devastating Blaze of Tragedy

The crash of the Concorde in 2000 was a shock. Also known as the Air France 4590 crash, it resulted in the deaths of more than 100 people, and Concorde crash victims included several people who weren't even on the plane. It was the only fatal incident involving the supersonic jet, and, before the crash, the Concorde was considered a relatively safe aircraft – with a history of zero deaths. The crash that effectively ended its nearly three decades of commercial use was caused by tire debris, which hit the fuel tank and caused it to explode.

The Concorde was developed through a partnership between Great Britain and France in the 1960s. The turbojet operated from 1969 until 2003, going commercial in 1976 with a flight from London to Bahrain and a flight from Paris to Rio. Passengers enjoyed flying on the jet because it was significantly faster than other flights. While the plane wasn't exactly luxurious inside, it catered to the rich and famous – who were the only ones who could afford the exorbitant ticket prices.

There were many reasons why the Concorde ceased operating in 2003, and the crash was just the start of its decline.

Photo: flickr / CC0

  • Concorde Means "Harmony" – And It Was Built In Harmony By French And British Aerospace Engineers

    The British Aircraft Corporation and French Aerospatiale joined forces to manufacture the supersonic plane in the 1960s. Together, British Airways and Air France built 20 planes. The name Concorde is derived from the French word for "harmony," and it was a fitting name because it highlighted the teamwork the countries demonstrated in developing the fastest mode of air transportation to date.

  • Tickets For The Flight From London To New York Cost Thousands Of Dollars

    Tickets For The Flight From London To New York Cost Thousands Of Dollars
    Photo: William M / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons

    Multiple airlines were excited about the Concorde when plans for its construction were revealed. They believed it was the future of flight. But the planes cost much more to construct than originally anticipated due to unexpected production costs. As a result, each unit was priced at over $20 million, and that dissuaded many companies from buying them. The Concorde was used largely for passengers traveling across the Atlantic ocean. The typical passenger was well off financially and able to afford a return ticket from London-New York for approximately $8,000.

  • The Concorde Could Travel More Than Twice The Speed Of Sound

    It's understandable why people were so interested in traveling on the Concorde – it was much faster than standard airplanes. The first delta-wing Concorde took to the air on March 2, 1969. Its top speed was 1,354 miles per hour, or Mach 2.04, which was more than twice the speed of sound. Travelers could leave New York and arrive in London just three hours later. Today, it typically takes over seven hours to make the same flight.

  • The Uber Wealthy And Celebrities Flew On It

    The Uber Wealthy And Celebrities Flew On It
    Photo: Marcel Antonisse / Anefo / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 4.0

    Taking a flight on the Concorde was a unique experience. Even though it flew around 1,500 miles per hour, passengers didn't feel and weren't bothered by the high speed of travel. They were served champagne and caviar on board. Celebrities, including Rolling Stones rockers Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, singer Barbra Streisand, and actor Richard Gere were among those who traveled on the transatlantic flights. Neal Stebbing, the former director of sales at British Airways, was delighted every time he booked a flight, recalling, "I was like a kid in a candy shop the few times I flew."

  • Until A Horrible Fire In 2000 Killed 109 People On Board

    Until A Horrible Fire In 2000 Killed 109 People On Board
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Fair use

    The popularity of the Concorde started to decline following a horrible accident on July 25, 2000. When a Concorde took off from a Paris runway, it experienced catastrophic engine failure. Detritus from a tire blowout ruptured a fuel tank, causing it to light on fire. The plane crashed, hitting a hotel and restaurant in the process. Everyone on board was killed, including 100 passengers and nine crew members. In addition, four people on the ground died. 

  • An Investigation In The Wake Of The Crash Ended In Charges Against The Airline

    An Investigation In The Wake Of The Crash Ended In Charges Against The Airline
    Photo: DA Cooper for the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch / Wikimedia Commons / OGL 3

    Following the crash, the remaining fleet, consisting of 13 aircrafts, was inspected. Investigators uncovered problems with the design, and the airlines were forced to spend a lot of money to modify the planes to make them safer. By then, the costs of gas and maintenance were becoming difficult to justify to keep the Concorde in operation. The investigations that took place in the wake of the crash also involved authorities trying to figure out if anyone was to blame, legally speaking. And, in 2010, French courts found Continental Airlines guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the 114 deaths.