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Disaster struck on July 25th, 2000, when a Concorde supersonic passenger jet crashed in France just minutes after take-off, killing all 109 people on board and four people on the ground.

Bound for New York, the Air France jet had taken off from Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, but just two minutes into the flight crashed into a hotel in a small town 10 miles north of the capital. Witnesses reported one of its left-hand engines catching fire on take-off.

There were nine crew and 100 passengers on board, mostly German tourists flying to New York where they would join a cruise ship bound for Equador. The flight had been chartered by a German-based tour operator.

Witnesses reported a huge fireball followed by dense black smoke as the jet crashed. Emergency services were on the scene within minutes, but no survivors were found. The aircraft was part of a fleet of six operated by Air France which had been in service for 20 years, but a routine inspection just four days previously had found no problems. 

All Air France Concordes were grounded pending a full investigation and the accident came just a day after British Airways announced it had found hairline cracks in the wings of all seven of its Concordes. However, it later transpired that it wasn't a fault on the Concorde which caused it to crash.

Instead the investigation found that a 40cm piece of metal had fallen off another plane which took off five minutes before the Concorde. When the Concorde ran over it on the runway one of its tyres exploded, throwing debris into the fuel tank and starting a catastrophic fire.

A series of safety improvements costing some £17 million were made to all Concordes, including fitting tougher tyres and bulletproof linings on its fuel tanks. Flights resumed in November 2001, but there was no getting over the fact that Concorde, which first flew in 1969, was showing its age. Over the next few years there was a series of mechanical and engine problems, leading to a lack of customer confidence in the aircraft that was once the world's most prestigious passenger jet.

On April 10th, 2003, both Air France and British Airways announced the aircraft would be withdrawn from service by the end of October that year. Its last commercial flight was on October 23rd, with several of the once-revolutionary supersonic jets now exhibited in aviation museums around the world.

Developed as a joint Anglo-French project, Concorde took its name from that cross-Channel co-operation. The jet was instantly recognisable for its large delta wing and long pointed nose, which could be lowered when the plane was on the ground to give pilots sight of the runway.

With a maximum speed over twice the speed of sound, Concorde slashed flight times, but its range was limited by the size of its fuel tanks and the rate at which it consumed fuel. Even so, travelling on Concorde became the ultimate VIP flight experience, confounding early Government warnings that the project would be an expensive commercial disaster.

The crash in France – actually caused by debris from another aircraft – was the only one in Concorde's 27-year history of commercial flight.

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