By Jeffrey Schaeffer
GONESSE, France — Families whose loved ones died in the fiery crash of a supersonic Concorde jet 10 years ago joined together near Paris yesterday, laying flowers at a monument to the dead and wandering the breezy field where the plane went down.
A French court is awaiting a verdict on who was to blame for the accident, which killed 109 aboard the plane and four on the ground, and devastated the reputation of the jet. The Concorde, which ferried the rich and famous across the Atlantic for three decades and could fly twice as fast as the speed of sound, was taken out of service in 2003.
Some 100 family members, witnesses of the crash and Air France officials attended ceremonies yesterday marking 10 years since the plane crashed after takeoff from Charles de Gaulle Airport, plowing into a hotel in the Paris suburb of Gonesse.
Air France flew in family members from Germany, where most of the victims were from, and gave them flowers to place at a monument in Gonesse. The Concorde program was operated jointly by Air France and British Airways.
One couple clenched hands as they looked at the monument, made of transparent glass with a piece of an airplane wing jutting through it. Families lay the flowers in silence, though officials spoke briefly at the ceremony.
Afterward, relatives of the dead went behind the monument, wandering the field where the plane crashed and where the hotel compound once stood. Claudine Le Gouadec traveled to Gonesse to pay tribute to her sister, Virginie, chief flight attendant on the doomed plane.
"I still have trouble believing that she is gone. It still seems abstract to me. The loss. For me she still exists, but I don't see her," she said.
Patrick Tesse recalled watching the accident unfold from his hotel nearby.
"I was in my office with the windows wide open. The noise of the plane's engine made me look up and when I saw the Concorde, it was in flames, it was moving back and forth violently," he said.
"I said to myself, 'That's it. I'm going die."'
After a decade of investigation, a French court held a trial earlier this year in which Houston-based Continental and two of its employees are accused of manslaughter in the crash. The verdict is expected in December.
The trial focused on investigators' reports that a Continental jet dropped a metal strip onto the runway before the Concorde took off. The prosecution says the debris gashed one of the Concorde's tires, sending pieces of rubber into the fuel tanks and sparking a fire.
Continental denies any responsibility, saying fire broke out on the Concorde before the plane reached the debris on the runway.
The prosecution also accuses three French officials of underestimating trouble spots on the Concorde itself, and they are also charged with manslaughter.
The trial's main goal is to assign responsibility, as most of the victims' families received settlements years ago.
The town of Gonesse organized a separate ceremony yesterday, where some residents expressed their fears that this could happen again.
"I don't want call it an obsession, because we are so used to hearing the noise" of airplanes, said resident Claude Philippe, 72. "But sometimes where there is a weird sound, we say to ourselves, 'Here it is, this one is for us.'"