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Saturday, 29 July, 2000, 15:27 GMT 16:27 UK
Flashback: 'My Concorde tyre drama'
Concorde in flames
Final moments: Bill Lightfoot was not surprised by tragedy
As attention in the Paris Concorde disaster focuses on a possible tyre blow-out, a regular Concorde passenger has told the BBC he was on a previous flight when debris from a burst tyre pierced the wing, rupturing the fuel tank.

Bill Lightfoot said the drama happened on an Air France Concorde, flying from Washington to Paris in June, 1979.

He says he was told by the crew that it was not the first time a tyre had burst - but the co-pilot went grey when he saw the hole.


I grabbed the co-pilot's head and pushed it over by the windows so he could see - he said: 'Mon Dieu'

Concorde passenger Bill Lightfoot
Speaking on BBC World Service radio, Mr Lightfoot said the drama had begun as the plane had been preparing to take off.

"There was a shuddering sensation, like a car would feel if you had blown tyres, and something went vertically past my window," he said.

"When I loosened my seatbelt and peered down through the three layers of glazing, I could see a hole in the wing.

"It appeared to be a good size, with pieces of ripped aluminium or some other alloy, and huge amounts of liquid spewing out of this hole.

Crash site
Tyres remain a key focus of the investigation
"It became clear the tyres had blown, and dropped the wheels onto the pavement. They shattered and pieces spun off, ripping through the wing and through at least one fuel tank."

Mr Lightfoot, an aviation consultant at the time, says he tried to alert the crew to the damage as the aircraft accelerated.

Cabin crew at first tried to insist he had mistaken the flaps for a hole, but when he persisted the steward agreed to go to the cockpit.

"He came back and said: 'The pilot says he knows he's blown some tyres and it's happened before' - which is interesting as already in June 1979 they knew they were blowing tyres."

Mr Lightfoot says he again insisted something was seriously wrong, and finally the French co-pilot came to the cabin to investigate.


In the Paris incident, when they said the number two engine failed I said: 'Yeah - that's where the wheel fragments keep going'

Bill Lightfoot
"I grabbed his head and pushed it over by the windows so he could see. "He said: 'Mon Dieu'. He just blanched, he turned grey, ashen."

Since the Paris crash, US investigators have revealed that on at least four occasions between 1979 and 1981, Air France Concordes did suffer burst tyres on take-off.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) confirmed that in the June 1979 incident, two tyres on the left-hand side had burst, showering tyre debris and wheel shrapnel into number two engine, puncturing three tanks and the severing several hydraulic and electrical wires.

A large hole was also torn in the skin of the top wing.

Mr Lightfoot says he believes the plane which crashed in flames had suffered exactly the same fate - but the only difference was that the fuel leaking from his plane had not ignited.

"In the incident I was in, fragments of the wheel went into number two engine," he said.

"The same thing happened in a later accident.

"So in the Paris incident, when they said the number two engine failed I said: 'Yeah - that's where the wheel fragments keep going.' It made perfect sense."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Bill Lightfoot tells his story
"Something went vertically by my window"
The Concorde Crash

Return to the skies?

The investigation

The crash

INTERACTIVE GUIDE

TALKING POINT

FORUM

FROM THE ARCHIVE

AUDIO VIDEO
See also:

29 Jul 00 | Europe
28 Jul 00 | Europe
28 Jul 00 | Europe
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