The futuristic new terminal at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris may have to be torn down following the deadly collapse of its vaulted roof.
Authorities lowered the death toll from yesterday’s collapse to four from five, saying sniffer dogs had at first appeared to locate two bodies at one spot under the rubble but in fact found one.
With many in France stunned by the collapse, Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin visited the scene, and the airport’s head said investigations would help decide whether to scrap Terminal 2E.
“If all these rings that make up this terminal are irrecoverable, we’ll tear it all down, of course,” said Paris airports authority President Pierre Graff, referring to steel rings that form a spine in the building.
“We will take no risks when it comes to security.”
The vaulted roof, touted as a jewel of design, safety and comfort, caved in as passengers arrived on Sunday morning. The Chinese government said two Chinese travellers were among the dead.
The terminal was designed by architect Paul Andreu who complained at the time that the airport had mismanaged construction.
Andreu has been working on a project in Beijing, but is reported to be returning to Paris to join the investigation. He is one of the world’s leading airport design specialists.
The roof fell on to a waiting area in the futuristic terminal that sits on pylons, pulling down outer walls and crashing through a boarding ramp and on to several parked cars below.
A few cracking sounds were heard before the crash as a 98-foot portion of the concrete, steel and glass roof caved in just before 7am (6am Irish time) yesterday. Two separate probes were under way.
“How is this possible?” wrote Le Parisien on today’s front page.
The terminal, a tunnel-shaped construction that is hundreds of yards long, was evacuated and remained closed. The terminal mainly serves Air France, which warned of continued delays.
The tragedy comes as France braces for the influx of summer tourists who will pour into Charles de Gaulle airport, the country’s busiest and among the largest in Europe.
After at least two construction delays, the £530m (€791.7m) terminal, with slots for 17 aircraft, opened last June. The French TV network LCI said the delays were caused by safety issues.
A huge light fixture fell in the departure area as inspectors were checking the area, said airport director Rene Brun, the airport director, confirming press reports.
He said there also were leaks in the ceiling. However, Brun and other officials said the problems were not structural.
“There were never signs of cracks or other major abnormalities,” Brun said.
The terminal in the Paris suburb of Roissy was designed to handle 10 million passengers a year.
The distinctive ceiling is honeycombed with hundreds of square windows that bathe the area inside with light.
Concerns over the image of Paris’ largest airport were immediately apparent.
“The consequences are obviously grave for us since we have to manage the movement of planes with one less terminal, grave in terms of image since this was our showcase jewel,” said Graff, the Aeroports de Paris chief.
“It’s the structure that gave way, the structure itself,” said Mesnil, the director-general of the Paris airports.