GONESSE, France — The supersonic Concorde which crashed at take-off Tuesday killing 113 people made a last-ditch effort to land before falling in a ball of flames, witnesses said.
Office workers around Paris' Charles de Gaulle Roissy airport said they ran to their windows and saw the Air France airliner, a left engine ablaze, plummet to the ground a few miles from the airport.
"I saw a plane taking off with its motor on fire, probably the rear-left motor, it tried to turn to the left and it crashed at that very moment," a witness told France Info radio shortly after the accident took place at 4.44 p.m. (10:44 A.M. EST).
"It had just left the runway when I saw that its motor was on fire with extremely large flames coming out of the rear," he said. "On the point of impact there was an enormous fireball, then an enormous cloud of black smoke—all you could see was smoke."
Sid Hare, a Fedex courier pilot staying in a nearby hotel, said he saw huge flames shooting out of one of Concorde's engines, and that the plane had struggled to take off.
"It raised its nose, then stalled and then rolled over and fell to earth in a huge fireball," he told CNN television. "It appeared to be a catastrophic engine failure."
Nathalie Wycisk, an office worker in a building that stands just beyond the airport runway, said the plane tried to turn around before it keeled over and plunged to the ground.
"The pilot realized there was an enormous problem and tried to turn around but the plane fell straight down."
"When it tried to accelerate it caught fire behind. It fell directly on its wing. It wanted to turn around and boom, it just fell," she told LCI television. "Everything was shaking."
The plane crashed in the town of Gonesse southwest of the airport minutes after it took off for New York.
The owner of the Relais Bleu hotel at Gonesse said the blazing plane missed his hotel by a few yards, crashing into the nearby Hotelissimo hotel.
"I thought the plane was going to land on my desk. I saw it heading toward me, in flames. I let go the telephone and ran," he told Europe 1 radio.
He said the Hotelissimo owner was safe and he saw a guest jump out of a window to safety.
"There were some staff and some trainees inside. I believe they are dead," he said.
Emergency services said four people were killed on the ground.
Planes kept taking off from the airport as dozens of onlookers headed across fields toward the huge cloud of brownish smoke behind a thicket of trees.
"I heard a huge explosion, then a second and I ran to the window and saw flames bigger than trees," a shaken office worker said. "One of my colleagues had a piece of metal land on the roof of her car. The plane was very low, not even 100 metres (yards). It happened very fast."
"I thought it was my petrol (gasoline) tank which had exploded," said Joel Roman, director of a transport firm next to the hotel.