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Witness 2000: review of the year Jon Sopel
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Jon Sopel on the dream and disaster of Concorde
Concorde
July
In this month:
Talks between Israel and the Palestinians ended without agreement over the future of Jerusalem. Yasser Arafat vowed to set up a Palestinian state in 10 weeks.
Up to 250 people died in an oil pipeline explosion in Nigeria.
In Fiji, 27 hostages held by coup leader George Speight were released.
Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party found itself no longer institutional as it lost power after 71 years in government. France launched an unprecedented investigation into the US-led 'Echelon' intelligence gathering system.
Iran relaxed the dress code for school girls - but Swaziland banned miniskirts in schools in an attempt to halt the spread of Aids.
In the UK, the prime minister’s son, Euan, was found drunk by police after a riotous post-exam celebration.
Much-loved Speaker of the House of Commons Betty Boothroyd retired.
Northern Ireland’s Maze prison which housed paramilitary prisoners closed as part of the peace process.
In business, Japanese conglomerate Sogo collapsed with debts of £12bn. The fourth Harry Potter book was published in a marketing frenzy and former prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s handbag raised £100,000 in a charity auction.
Scientists announced that they had found the world’s oldest living oganism, a 260-million-year old bacterium.
In sport, France won the European Championships, two years after winning the World Cup. Venus Williams won the Wimbledon woman’s singles and Tiger Woods took the St Andrews Open in Scotland, making him the youngest golfer at 24 to win all four majors. Walter Matthau, one of Hollywood’s funniest actors, died, aged 79.
Best of BBC coverage:
Additional features:
Concorde: A dream dies
It was the ultimate in air travel. But Paris correspondent Jon Sopel saw the wreckage of a dream on a fateful day summer's day.

Read the transcript

The day Concorde crashed I was sitting in our edit suite, cutting a report for the six o'clock news about French football being so much better organised than British football.

And then a phone call came through with these words: "We have got a report that Concorde has crashed into a hotel after taking off from Charles de Gaulle Airport."

It is hard to describe your instant reaction; it is a mixture of probably fifteen hundred thoughts all coming at once.

What do we do? How do we get there? Do I go now? Do I go later? How many people have been hurt?

Is it possible that anyone has survived?

Those pictures that you see of surfers and there is a giant wave above their heads and they are underneath it - that is what it felt like.

It felt as though a giant wave was about to come crashing over mine and the Paris Bureau's head as we sought to react to what was clearly the biggest story that we had had to deal with in Paris, obviously since the death of Princess Diana.

Obviously the first thing you want to do is to establish some basic facts - and this we tried to do by contacting the usual emergency services and sure enough it wasn't very long before the bare bones of the story were confirmed.

In the BBC there is something called the "generic minute".

You go into a studio and you talk for about a minute about what you know and I sat in the studio and I realised that my heart was pounding, my stomach was churning and I was in no fit state to broadcast.

Whereas London on the other end was saying, "Come on John, we are ready for you now" and I made myself wait for about 30 or 40 seconds before actually starting my report, just to gather my breath.

Then I sat in our television studio, in our bureau, for the next three hours, broadcasting non-stop.

First of all BBC One had a special programme. I did that, then there was News24, then there was BBC World television, then there were all the radio programmes that needed servicing; Radio 4, Radio 5, Radio 1, the World Service and by the time that loop had been done, you started all over again and the information was being dripped in bit by bit.

In fact the emergency services gave spectacularly accurate reports early on. One hundred and nine people dead on board the aircraft, a German charter, all the passengers were German, it was obviously a French crew and there was a suspicion that four people had died on the ground.

Those figures did not change from that moment onwards, so we had the figures of what we were talking about.

The next thing that happened was that I and my cameraman had to get up to the area just outside Charles de Gaulle Airport where the crash had happened.

We weren't sure where we were going, we went north towards Charles de Gaulle Airport, took a road that seemed to be heading in the right direction and then of course we saw the plume of smoke still reaching high into the sky which was obviously where the crash site had been.

We parked our van, there was a producer who had come down from Brussels and I had to meet up with him.

This is the logistics of television - because that is what it is like - you have to work out how on earth you are going to get the pictures on the air.

I had to park in one area - the police said I couldn't go any further. The satellite dish was on the other end of the police cordon.

My cameraman and I then spent the next forty-five minutes climbing over fences into private buildings - guard dogs chasing us across open car parks - as we were essentially trespassing, because we had to get to where the satellite trucks were where we could broadcast from.

We had barely started and the police drove us back because the plane had caught fire again and there were noxious fumes and chemicals pouring out of the plane and so they had to drive the police line back for our own safety.

There was a hideous smell of kerosene and burning rubber from the tyres and then we had to broadcast.

It had only been a couple of hours but the world's press were descending fast on this little town of and we all had to work out how we could use just three or four satellite trucks.

Everyone was begging for time on the satellite so they could send their reports to Japanese television, to Russian television, to American television, to German and English television - and so it went on.

I eventually finished that night and a day of non-stop broadcasting at just after midnight and the BBC had booked us into a hotel around the complex of Charles De Gaulle Airport.

It was then, when I went to bed about one in the morning, hadn't really eaten, all you had been doing was making sure you could get the story on air - reporting the logistics of it.

It was then when I went to bed that you suddenly stopped and thought - one hundred and thirteen people had died in an incident.

Suddenly the reality of the Concorde crash hit home - you were not just a journalist reporting a story, you were just another human being trying to come to terms with the events that you had been reporting on all day.

That night I just didn't sleep a wink and I got up the next morning and the adrenaline just about got me through the morning.

But for the most part you were just a journalist reporting and then in that moment when I went to bed, you were just another human being trying to make sense of what had been a really dreadful day.