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Starting Tuesday, Continental Airlines along with five people will go on trial over the July 2000 crash of the Concorde that killed 113 people. It’s a peculiar coincidence but memories of my first trip to France are interwoven with those of the crash since I had landed at Charles de Gaulle airport a few days before the doomed July 25 flight.
Upon arriving as a wide-eyed explorer, I visited the sights, made a few professional courtesy calls and began whispering into the universe that I wanted to work as a Paris-based foreign correspondent. Then, I headed to the south of France by train, eventually arriving in postcard perfect, idyllic Collioure, a Mediterranean seaside gem that inspired painters like Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso.
To be in vacation mode back in those days meant being cut off; I was without a smart phone, personal computer or television. I had to buy a phone card and go to the phone booth across the road from my guesthouse just to let someone know that I had reached my destination.
My room at the guesthouse was above a bakery and the smell of fresh-baked croissants woke me up every morning. On a walk the morning after the crash, I noticed headlines and photographs at a newsstand referring to an airline disaster. I assumed the coverage was the morbid commemoration of an earlier event.
I didn’t bother picking up a newspaper since the idea that the Concorde had crashed was the furthest thing from my mind. I was traveling alone and no one I encountered discussed the subject. Plus, supersonic flights enjoyed by those who could afford them were invincible and immune to failure, or so my faulty logic went.
Nearly a decade later, that failure, whether mechanical, man-made or some combination, will be debated in court over the next four months as relatives and loved ones of the 100 passengers, nine crewmembers and four people on the ground who lost their lives seek answers about what happened that fateful day many Julys ago.