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Wednesday, 26 July, 2000, 17:09 GMT 18:09 UK
Concorde pilot 'saved our village'
Crash site
Damage on the ground could have been far worse
As investigators attempt to determine the cause of the Concorde crash outside Paris, it already looks as though the disaster could have been much worse had it not been for the pilot, Christian Marty.

While the Concorde itself was totally destroyed, damage on the ground was limited to an annexe in the grounds of a hotel, and only four lives were lost among people on the ground.


The pilot turned the Concorde away from the village and into the fields behind

Eyewitness Christine Turpin
Had the plane hit the main hotel building just metres away, the loss of life would have been much greater - and even more catastrophic had the aircraft crashed into the town of Gonesse itself.

"That pilot saved this village, there is no doubt about that," said Christine Turpin, the manager of a petrol station and shop about 100 metres from the crash site.

Struggling

Ms Turpin had been driving near the airport as the doomed flight took off, and noticed trouble as soon as the Concorde came into view.

Christian Marty
Christian Marty: Pilot and transatlantic windsurfer
"The plane was trying to gain height but it didn't seem able to do that," she told reporters.

"As I was driving towards the garage I saw it start to twist and turn."

Ms Turpin suggested that the pilot had made an effort to steer the plane towards a relatively safe landing site before the heavily-laden plane went out of control completely.

"I am quite certain that the pilot turned the Concorde away from the village and into the fields behind," she said.

"He saved the lives of the people of Gonesse. Otherwise it would have been a worse catastrophe."

Too late to abort?

Aviation experts have pointed out the difficulties of aborting a take-off when an aircraft is laden with fuel.


The pilot tried to yank it up, but it was too late

Eyewitness Samir Hossein
Indications are that Mr Marty may have been aware of engine trouble before take-off, but it was too late.

Samir Hossein, a local student, described how the plane appeared to be struggling to gain altitude.

"The pilot tried to yank it up, but it was too late," he said.

Transatlantic surfer

Mr Marty, 54, had flown his first plane in 1969, just as the first Concordes were being built - but it was only a year ago that he qualified as a Concorde pilot.


During stopovers, he would take his bike with him and then we would see him leaving to climb mountains

Fellow pilot Eric Derivry
Previously he had been a captain and later an instructor for the Airbus A340.

Not content with transatlantic flights, Mr Marty also became the first Frenchman to windsurf across the Atlantic ocean.

Described by a friend as "a sportsman at heart", Mr Marty was also a keen mountain biker.

"During stopovers, he would take his bike with him and then we would see him leaving to climb mountains," fellow pilot Eric Derivry told Reuters news agency.

The Concorde Crash

Return to the skies?

The investigation

The crash

INTERACTIVE GUIDE

TALKING POINT

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