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Report: Jet’s Rudder Disintegrated On Flight To New York

September 11, 1991

LONDON (AP) _ British Airways has expanded inspection procedures for its Concorde jets after the rudder on a supersonic aircraft disintegrated on a transatlantic flight, a newspaper reported today.

The Times of London said it was the second such incident since 1989 and was kept quiet by officials.

The newspaper quoted a report by air safety experts as saying the incident occurred in January while the jetliner was flying at more than 1,400 mph, 56,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean en route to New York. Forty-nine passengers were aboard.

It quoted the report as saying the crew felt what they believed was an engine surge. It said unusual vibrations were felt as the plane slowed and dropped below 41,000 feet.

The jet, which landed safely, lost part of its lower rudder plus most of the covering on the right side of the tail.

″The failure ... was kept secret by shocked safety chiefs and (British Airways) engineers because it followed a similar incident over the Tasman Sea (between New Zealand and Australia) two years ago,″ the paper reported.

The paper said tests by the government’s Accidents Investigation Branch showed paint stripper used to clean Concordes was probably the cause.

A British Airways spokesman said he hadn’t seen the Accidents Investigation Branch report. But he said he believed it indicated paint stripper had reacted with adhesives bonding the rudder section’s laminated metal layers.

″The big question is, ‘Can it happen again?’ And the answer is no,″ said the spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity. ″Since the incident in January and with our knowledge of what happened in 1989 (over the Tasman Sea), we have instigated yet more checks.″

He said sealants protecting the adhesive are being used and the new checks included infrared and X-ray examinations.

The newspaper also reported that acoustic tests were also introduced to combat the problem.

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