We are in Eysines, in an area known as Domaine du Pinsan, familiar to most these days for its sports fields, its swimming pool and its r...

Flight AF1919 from Brussels to Bordeaux: the 1987 Eysines air disaster

We are in Eysines, in an area known as Domaine du Pinsan, familiar to most these days for its sports fields, its swimming pool and its running path. At the base of a tree, a number of small plaques and potted flowers serve as an unofficial but poignant reminder of a tragic event that occurred here on December 21st 1987: the crash of Air France flight 1919 from Brussels to Bordeaux, and the death of its 13 passengers and three crew members. 

The aircraft was an Embraer 120 turboprop operated by domestic airline Air Littoral for Air France, as part of a regular service connecting Bordeaux with Brussels and Amsterdam. On this Monday before Christmas, the weather was poor throughout much of Europe. After the outbound flight from Bordeaux touched down in Brussels at 10:37 Central European Time, the two-way Brussels-Amsterdam leg of the service was cancelled due to the bad conditions in the Netherlands. There was then a further degree of uncertainty when the Bordeaux-bound plane departed from Brussels at 13:30 because heavy fog back in Bordeaux had failed to lift as had been forecast; it was likely the flight would have to be diverted to Toulouse or Biarritz. 

An Air France/Air Littoral EMB 120. Photo by Werner Fischdick, source: www.crash-aerien.news
However, captain Rémy Robert and co-pilot Guy Michoux (whose roles had been reversed, the co-pilot was “Pilot Flying” and the captain was “Pilot Monitoring”) were keen to return to their base in Bordeaux to avoid the obvious logistical complications of landing elsewhere, and they reached the area to the north of Bordeaux-Mérignac airport without any trouble. At this stage visibility remained poor and clouds were low (100 feet), so the crew requested to enter a holding pattern to the south. But, just as the aircraft was about to exit the flight path to enter the holding pattern, air traffic control reported an improvement in the weather conditions (the cloud base had risen to 160 feet) and, to air traffic control’s surprise, the pilots decided to revise their plans and immediately sought to re-join the landing route. 

At this stage, the plane was travelling faster and at a higher altitude than it should have been, and overshot the glide path to the airport, veering to the right of the designated trajectory. The pilots still considered they could rectify the path of the aircraft, deploying flaps and landing gear ahead of landing, but the plane’s descent was much too sharp, it was now well below the glide slope and radio contact with the control tower was lost. It was too late to recover and at 15:10, some 5,100 metres short of the runway, the plane struck some tall pines and crashed, burst into flames on impact and set fire to nearby trees. Everyone on board was killed virtually instantly. 

From the official report into the crash: on the left is the usual flight path from the north, over the Dordogne and the Garonne and on to Bordeaux-Mérignac airport. On the right is what flight AF1919 did, initially deciding to head towards the holding area to the south, and then switching back to the designated glide path, which it overshot by some margin to the right. 
Emergency services soon arrived on the scene. They were met by the sight of windows blackened by the fire inside the fuselage, from which the wings had been torn. All 16 bodies - 11 men, four women (including air hostess Annie Suzineau) and a young girl - were recovered from the wreckage by the rescue workers, although it soon registered that the toll could have been far worse: the plane had crashed a mere 200 metres from a children’s day-care centre where 30 toddlers were having their afternoon nap. The children were quickly evacuated from the premises. 

Pictures taken at the scene of the crash as included in the official report into the crash. Top left: the tail of the aircraft; top right: one of the engines; bottom left: the front of the plane; bottom right: what remained of the cockpit.
A 37-page report (including a transcript of voice recordings of the final 30 minutes leading up to the crash) produced by France’s air accident investigation bureau (BEA, Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la sécurité de l'aviation civile) was released some 18 months later and officially stated the crash was attributable to the mismanagement of the aircraft’s trajectory, due to a lack of vigilance on behalf of the pilots and poorly-coordinated tasks, such as monitoring altitude data and alignment with the on-ground instrument landing systems. 

Prior to that though, in the immediate aftermath of the accident, much finger-pointing and speculation had quickly emerged in local media. Regional daily Sud Ouest had run the headline “Crash du Brasilia : alcoolémie confirmée”, singling out the pilots as being inebriated. This latter claim was not initially backed up, and Sud Ouest issued a discreet correction/apology a few months later. Then again, in the BEA report, it was stated that tests showed the captain’s alcohol level was 0.35 grams per litre (today, the legal limit for pilots in Europe is 0.2 grams per litre), while the co-pilot’s blood was free of alcohol, but nothing more was made of this finding. 

From front page of 19th September 1988 issue of Sud Ouest.
However, whether the pilots were under the influence or not, judging by a message pinned to the tree in Eysines, the families of the victims of the crash have neither forgiven nor forgotten their misjudged actions and decision-making. The text mentions "the pilots' incompetence" and quotes the verdict delivered by the Tribunal de Grand Instance de Paris in 1992, "an inexcusable error that caused the accident", before signing off "We do not forget. We do not forgive."

Finally, when researching this item Invisible Bordeaux uncovered an unexpected dimension which was undocumented in any of the contemporary media coverage or the official investigation report: one of the passengers on board the aircraft was the 22-year-old Philippe Deschamps, who was returning to his native south-western France from his new home in Brussels. He was set to meet up with his family to spend Christmas in Anglet, between Biarritz and Bayonne. 

Didier Deschamps, pictured playing for Bordeaux (1990-91).
Picture source: Getty Images/Alain Gadoffre.
Philippe was the older brother of the then 19-year-old up-and-coming Nantes footballer Didier Deschamps, who of course went on to enjoy an illustrious career at clubs including Bordeaux, Marseille, Juventus and Chelsea, as well as captaining France in their victorious World Cup 1998 and Euro 2000 campaigns, ahead of becoming a successful coach at Monaco, Marseille, Juventus and now for France’s international squad. Didier was in Concarneau, Brittany, when he received the dreaded phone call, while staying with the parents of his girlfriend Claude (who later became his wife) before heading south for the family reunion. The extent of the shock was further compounded three days later when, as an indirect consequence, Claude’s father died of a heart attack… 

Didier Deschamps has only very occasionally spoken publicly about this pivotal and traumatic period in his family’s history, but in a 2015 interview with Canal+’s Michel Denisot he stated that “it’s something you live with. You can never forget. Life can be unfair, destiny can be cruel, and in this case it was very cruel and very unfair. You live differently, it hardens you. It was difficult for me personally, but I know that it was even more difficult for my parents, and it still is today even though many years have passed.”

Didier Deschamps talks candidly about the loss of his brother
[from BALAMED Youtube channel]
Back at Domaine du Pinsan, the planes still fly overhead as they progress on the home straight towards Bordeaux-Mérignac airport, and the joggers continue to run past the tree and its makeshift shrine. But for everyone affected by the accident, the memories will remain. On an online forum, a border police officer stationed at the airport in 1987, and who was immediately dispatched to the scene of the accident alongside the emergency services, has written about how he would never forget the sight of the “flight delayed” message on the arrivals board and the families waiting for their loved ones in the airport terminal… the kind of situation everybody hopes they will never have to experience. 

A plane flies over Domaine du Pinsan, Eysines.
> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: memorial to victims of 1987 plane crash, Domaine du Pinsan, Eysines
> The full BEA report into the accident is available here: http://www.bea.aero/docspa/1987/f-gh871221/pdf/f-gh871221.pdf
> Cet article est également disponible en français. 

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Over the years, I seem to have amassed a bit of a collection of old postcards showing various sights and scenes in and around Bordeaux...

Parc Lescure/Stade Chaban-Delmas... as featured on old postcards

Over the years, I seem to have amassed a bit of a collection of old postcards showing various sights and scenes in and around Bordeaux. A recurring theme that I often find myself drawn to is the old Stade Municipal, known these days as Stade Chaban-Delmas, although most Bordelais prefer to refer to it as Parc Lescure... so here is a selection of those cards!

This historic city-centre stadium (the subject of a full Invisible Bordeaux report some years ago) is associated by many with local football team Girondins de Bordeaux, although it is now the permanent home of top-flight rugby team Union Bordeaux-Bègles. If you're familiar with the stadium as a spectator, you may be surprised to see some of these pictures, starting with this one which shows the entrance to the "tribune d'honneur" on match day. Check out the smart spectators and the elegant automobiles - parking didn't appear to be a big issue!    

The curious photo below somehow manages to get the full width of the arena into shot. Judging by the distortion, it looks like some form of fisheye lens must have been used. Note the steps down to the underground tunnel which led to and from the dressing rooms located in adjacent buildings. Later, the tunnel was diverted under the main stand towards the middle of the pitch. What are those panels with numbers on them bottom right? Part of the scoreboard system?

This next picture was taken from more or less the same spot, but sections either side of the underground tunnel access appear have been modified, presumably to cater for some form of athletic competition. What are the metallic structures laid out on the ground at either end of the pitch? Dismantled temporary stands?

Looking at the picture below, the area around the tunnel looks different once again. Could that be some form of ramp which has been installed to make it easier to wheel bicycles into the stadium? Judging by the position of the cyclists towards what must be the top of the ramp, that might just be the case. Don't let the rugby posts mislead you: the people you can make out on the pitch (other that those who are sat down) are actually on their bikes and playing the little-known game of cycle polo!

This next picture was taken up in the stands and gives an idea of how comfortable the seating arrangements were! There are no football or rugby posts on the pitch itself, but have you noticed that there is a full-on six-lane running track alongside the cycle track?

There are a few more people on the next shot! It appears to be a cycling event, and there is a whole row of punters standing just by the track getting ready to cheer on their champion!

The caption of the next picture (postmarked 1951) reads "Le grand tournant nord. Le contrôle." The white pole and rostrum therefore marks the point where the progress of cyclists was monitored as they sped around the track, and was no doubt the finishing line too. Bottom right, you can even spot the bell which rang out before the last laps!

As detailed in the previous Invisible Bordeaux article about the stadium, the cycle track, which hosted events such as the arrival of a Tour de France stage as recently as 1979, was removed in the 1980s in order to increase the venue's overall capacity. A new velodrome, the Stadium de Bordeaux, opened in the Lac district to the north of the city in 1989. The picture below shows another cycle race in progress.  

Another full house at Lescure, but what have they come to see? Could the linesman visible to the right, running at top speed along the touchline, be about to call a footballer offside? The gendarme standing in the bright sunshine towards the middle of the picture certainly appears to be more focused on the game than on any potential crowd trouble in the stands!

The following is only the second of this series of postcards to also include a handwritten message ("Je suis reçu. J'arrive demain soir, vendredi, avec tout un chargement de valises, Pierrot") and a date (1954). The gymnastics gala in progress (described overleaf as an "Exercice d'ensemble en face des tribunes") must have been a daunting experience for the hundreds of children involved, under the guidance of their conductor positioned on the (multi-purpose) platform over to the left!

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Stade Chaban-Delmas, Bordeaux. 
> A fine book about the history of the stadium and some of the Girondins footballing legends who called the place home was recently produced by the most excellent local journalists Julien Bée and Laurent Brun. Heavily recommended! See: https://www.mollat.com/livres/2124781/julien-bee-lescure-et-les-girondins-le-rendez-vous-des-legendes
> The full Invisible Bordeaux article about the history of the stadium is available here: http://invisiblebordeaux.blogspot.fr/2013/02/stade-chaban-delmas-nearing-end-of-its.html
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français ! 

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At various locations in the quiet western Bordeaux quarter of Caudéran, traces can still be spotted of the coat of arms that was Caudér...

The snails of Caudéran

At various locations in the quiet western Bordeaux quarter of Caudéran, traces can still be spotted of the coat of arms that was Caudéran’s when it was a separate town. Surprisingly, the crest features three snails. The explanation had better be a good one! 

Caudéran was an independent town until 1965 when it merged with its more imposing neighbour Bordeaux, a move which was no doubt in everybody’s interest although it is often murmured that the move was primarily instigated by Bordeaux’s mayor Jacques Chaban-Delmas. By becoming part of the wider city, the 29,000 residents of this well-to-do district (referred to as the “Neuilly of Bordeaux”) would help swell the conservative Chaban-Delmas’s electoral base. In return, they did get to keep their own 33200 postcode...

Source: Wikipedia.
All of which is fine, but where do snails come into it? Well, it turns out that for much of the 19th century and through until the early years of the 20th century, Caudéran didn’t enjoy the bourgeois status it commands today, and was instead a wilder patch of land more naturally associated with its roster of up to 70 bars, inns, cabarets and guinguettes… all of which lay conveniently close to Bordeaux, but also happened to be beyond the “barrières” where “octroi” offices (a previous Invisible Bordeaux subject) had been set up to collect duty on goods being brought into the city. Caudéran was basically a duty-free leisure haven.

The most famous and festive date in Caudéran’s calendar year was Ash Wednesday (mercredi des cendres). Any self-respecting Bordelais would have spent the previous days partaking in carnival-themed shenanigans through until Shrove Tuesday (mardi gras). Just before the sobering period of Lent kicked in, Ash Wednesday became synonymous with one final day of food, drink and general partying in Caudéran, the huge crowds of people mingling with each other in carnival masks and fancy dress… and, you guessed it, the de facto meal was a plate of snails. 

Place Lestonnat: one of the focal points of Caudéran's traditional Ash Wednesday celebrations.
Indeed, in amongst the vines, flowers and marshland in the area at the time, snails were commonplace and had developed into something of a local speciality supplied by Caudéran’s “cagouillards” (“cagouille” being the Charentais term for snail that was naturally transposed into Bordeaux's Bordeluche patois). So much so that one of Caudéran’s most famous restaurants at the time, on Place de Lestonnat, was none other than À la Renommée des Escargots. When a local Caudéran newspaper (the offices of which were in central Bordeaux) was launched in 1896, it was naturally given the name “L’Escargot”. Finally, Caudéran even incorporated snails into the town’s Gascon motto: “Lou limac cendrenous a fait ma renoumade” (a rough translation could be "Renowned for the ash snail").

The Ash Wednesday tradition died out during the First World War, just as Caudéran began developing into the residential quarter we are now familiar with. But the snail connection lived on in the shape of the town’s coat of arms, hence the designs that can still be seen above the door and on the exterior of what was the town’s mairie, above the door of the municipal police station, and on the war memorial where Caudéran’s standing as a “ville” lives on, carved in stone.
The old town hall (now a mairie de quartier).
The pleasingly bizarre police station.
The war memorial, frozen in an era when Caudéran was still a ville.
Visiting the area today and checking out some of the restaurants in Caudéran, I fail to find a single mention of snails on the menu (possibly the first time I have been disappointed not to spot snails in among the culinary options on offer). However, the snail connection is gradually being revived as the local association Vivre à Caudéran has recently begun organising modern-day “Fête de l’Escargot” celebrations in July of each year on Caudéran church square.

And, it could be argued that the taste of the Caudéran snails lives on, handed down by generations of locals. To get a feel of what those festive snails must have tasted like back in the day, tinned “Escargots à la Bordelaisecan easily be purchased, and there are also plenty of recipes readily available online... although I am reluctant to try any of them myself! Bon appétit nevertheless! 

> Much of the information in this piece was compiled from an article written by Philippe Prévôt and Richard Zéboulon (collectively known as Cadish) for Sud Ouest which also features in their book Bordeaux, petits secrets et grandes histoires, and from the entry about Caudéran in Jean-Jacques Déogracias’s Blasons des communes de la Gironde (thanks Guillaume!).
> Thanks Vincent for the linguistic tips! 
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

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