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Investigation into Charles de Gaulle Terminal Collapse Is Highly Critical

In February, the French Minister of Transport released the conclusions of the technical investigation into the tragic collapse of Terminal 2E at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport. Highly critical, the report says that the structure had been slowly deteriorating since its inauguration in June 2003. On the morning of May 23, 2004, a 33-foot long section of Terminal 2E collapsed, killing four people.

The long, tubular structure was designed by Paul Andreu, who was at the time Director of Architecture for the Aéroports de Paris, or ADP. Before the collapse, a crack appeared in the departure lounge roof at the point where an intermediate steel section meant to connect the exterior glass shell to the inner concrete shell transpierced the concrete. Concrete began to fall and the southern lateral supporting beam ruptured. The folding of the shell brought the entire arched-section down.


According to the report's main expert, engineer Jean Berthier, it had only been a question of time before the $960 million terminal collapsed. One reason was that the steel sections were embedded too deeply into the concrete. The report also cited inadequate or badly positioned reinforcing within the concrete. A lack of redundancy meant that stress was carried to the weakest points of the structure. The horizontal concrete beams on which the shell rested were weakened by the passage of ventilation ducts. Finally, the exterior metal structure was not sufficiently resistant to temperature changes. On the morning of the collapse the temperature dropped sharply to 4.1° C, from 25° C during the week.

Berthier would not go so far as to say that the design was at fault. Blame will be determined by a judicial inquiry where ADP, construction company Vinci, as well as Andreu could face negligence and involuntary homicide charges.

The Berthier report does question whether proper technical controls were implemented on a project where owner, project manager and architect were essentially the same company --- ADP. Now ADP must decide whether to raze the structure or try and repair it. It is a decision based on cost but also on a perceived image of security at the airport.

Claire Downey