On the July 25th, 2000, at around 5 in the afternoon, Air France Flight 4590 took off from Charles de Gaulle airport, Paris. This Concorde flight was carrying 100 German passengers and 9 French flight crew. During take off the plane struck a piece of debris left on the runway by an earlier flight. The debris managed to hole one the fuel tanks on the Concorde flight, resulting in a catastrophic fire that led the flight to crash shortly after takeoff, killing all on board.
At this time I was working at a location in Northern Germany, close to the border of the Netherlands. The project was one involving an international team of around 12 software developers drawn from Germany, the Netherlands, France and Britain. On the evening of the crash we all worked late so weren’t aware of the Concorde tragedy until the following morning. The team was based in a make-shift office that was usually used as the company’s main conference room for board meetings and the like. It included a large TV that we tended to switch on for an hour or two first thing in the morning, tuned to Euronews, so that we could catch up with events.
It was still quite early, around 8 a.m., but most of the team were already there – the Germans (who lived local) and the Brits and French (who had been put up in local hotels). Only missing were the Dutch guys, who had a two hour commute from the Enschede area just across the border. As usual we were half getting started on the day’s work, and half keeping an eye on the TV. Unsurprisingly, on this morning the news cycle was given up to the Concorde crash of the previous evening, with the extraordinary video clip captured by a witness being played on an almost constant loop. As the clip was played for the umpteenth time, the Dutch contingency arrived. Ruben, their leader and the project’s technical lead, dumped his laptop bag noisily onto the large conference desk that we all shared, and studied the TV intently. After a few moments he announces to no-one in particular: “Apparently the French government have awarded the pilot the legion d’honneur”. An interested silence fell over the room. “Really??” asked someone, with just a touch of incredulity. “Yes, it seems he’s single handedly killed more Germans in one go than the entire French army during WW2!” . A somewhat tense atmosphere is felt throughout, and I nervously glance to see how the French and German contingent are taking this “news”. I see both groups exchanging looks with each other. Then everyone breaks into a loud laughter, and the day continues like any other.
Just as well the German reputation for a lack of a sense of humour is entirely false.