There has only ever been two fatal accidents involving Supersonic Transport (SST) aircraft and in a bizarre twist of fate, despite happening 27 years apart, they happened less than 4 km apart.
Two supersonic airlines have been built and flown, The anglo-french designed Concorde and the Soviet Tupolev TU-144, dubbed “Concordski” and as such they were fierce competitors on the world scene at the height of the cold war.
In 1973 at the Paris Air Show both aircraft were being displayed to airlines and the public in order to usher in the new world of supersonic travel.
Concorde had done its final demonstration flight on the final day of the bi-annual show in what was deemed a fairly sedate display. Soviet pilot of the TU-144, Mikhail Kozlov, had openly bragged that the soviet aircraft would outperform Concorde and as such wanted to wow the crowds with how much better the TU-144 was.
During the flight, Kozlov made an approach but initiated a go-around to show off the power of its four afterburning engines. He pulled the aircraft up into a steep climb at full power.
What happened next is still unclear but the most logical scenario is that the aircraft stalled just below 2,000ft and as a result entered a dive, Kozlov then over-stressed the aircraft trying to pull out of the dive and the aircraft broke up in midair with the debris falling on the town of Goussainville, just north of Paris Le Bourget destroying 15 houses.
The six occupants of the aircraft were killed along with 8 people on the ground. 60 more were seriously injured.
While no official “cause” has ever been determined, many theories of why the crash happened exist ranging from the Soviets being deliberately given flawed plans by spies through to an Anglo-French cover-up caused by their trying to take photos of the Canards from a chase plane which Kozlov was forced to avoid.
Either way the TU-144 was doomed and following an in-flight fire some 4 years later, the project was cancelled having never entered service.
Unlike Concordski, The BAC/Aerospatiale Concorde did enter service and flew with both British Airways and Air France since its entry into service in 1976.
It flew for 24 years without a single fatality or serious accident, right up until 25th July 2000.
On the 25th, Air France Concorde G-BTFC was due to operate a charter flight taking primarily German tourists to New York.
It departed Paris Charles De-Gaulle airport at 16:44 local time but during its take-off roll it ran over some metal debris left on the runway by a Continental Airlines DC10 that had departed previously.
The metal debris tore into the front-right tyre on the main undercarriage sending a 4.5kg piece of rubber into the wing at tremendous force rupturing the fuel tank and send fuel pouring out into the path of the afterburning engines which ignited sending a stream of flames and smoke trailing from the aircraft.
The pilots, struggling to control the aircraft with melting flight controls, attempted to divert to Le Bourget but just a few miles from the airport the aircraft crashed into a hotel at Gonesse, 4.5km from the TU-144’s crash site at Goussainville.
All 109 people on board flight AF4590 were killed along with 4 hotel staff on the ground.
The crash of flight AF4590 remains the only fatal accident of an in service supersonic transport aircraft.
Concorde was withdrawn from service by both British Airways and Air France just 3 years later.
Twist of Fate
It is, of course, nothing more than a bizarre twist of fate that links these two crashes, 27 years apart yet just 2.7 miles but it is an interesting twist of fate nonetheless.