The 2000s (The Decade That Defined Gen Y): Part 2 - Disasters (Warning: Readers may find some content Disturbing)
The Air France Concorde Crash (flight AF4590 on July 25, 2000)
Air France will certainly live with the uncomfortable fact during the 2000s that its planes were involved in fatal crashes both in the beginning and even at the end of the decade (which I'll come to later).
Apart from British Airways, Air France was the only other major airline which had kept the Concorde - the world's only supersonic commercial jet (capable of flying at Mach-2 or twice the speed of sound at 50,000 feet over sea level during cruise), flying on its trans-Atlantic routes between Paris's Charles DeGaulle Airport (CDG) and New York's JFK. Since its debut in the late 1960s - at the height of the space and jet age during the cold-war, the Concorde had a spotless track record in luxury and high-speed air-travel until the year 2000 when its journey of over 30 years in active service was cut short.
On July 25th 2000, Air France flight AF4590, a routine Concorde shuttle from CDG to JFK took off with 109 people on board. After a clinically perfect take-off, the left engine of the plane suddenly caught fire and within 2 minutes, the state of the art jetliner crashed into a nearby field killing 4 people on the ground.
The accident was a catastrophic PR disaster for both Aerospatiale (the manufacturer of Concorde) and Air France, who decided to stop all Concorde flights until it was established what caused the crash.
British Airways soon followed suit, by announcing they'll be stopping their Concorde flights between London's Heathrow airport and JFK, citing safety concerns in light of the fatal Air France crash, thereby ending a major era in aviation.
Investigations into the crash revealed that during take-off, the Concorde's tires were ruptured by a piece of metal off the runway which made its way into one of the engines, thereby sparking the fire - further investigations revealed the metal came off a Continental Airlines DC-8 (Tri-Star) who eventually admitted criminal responsibility for it 2010 and were order to pay out.
Nevertheless, my generation and those older than me still remember Concorde's legacy and can now only wish we'll have similar planes in future which can break the sound-barrier on just another routine civilian run between two cities.
The Air France Concorde Crash: 'Seconds from Disaster'
COCKPIT FOOTAGE! The final British Airways Concorde take-off from New York's JFK Airport
Final Concorde Landings at London's Heathrow Airport (October, 2003)
Air France flight AF447 (May 31, 2009)
On May 31st 2009, Air France flight AF447 would close out the decade's list of major and global tragedies (just as it was the airline which began it with the crash of the Concorde) with one of the most bizarre crashes in modern aviation history.
Flight 447, a scheduled Airbus A330 operation from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, crashed north of Brazil in the Atlantic Ocean after it entered a thunderstorm, disintegrating the plane on impact and killing all 229 passengers and crew on board.
At first, due to the incredible depths of the Atlantic Ocean (going as deep as 4 km in places), authorities and search and rescue crews never ever thought they'd ever find the plane, until a wreckage containing the tail of the aircraft was spotted, confirming that it was indeed debris from the plane and it took another 2 years until 2011 for undersea drones to finally locate the black-boxes of the plane.
Investigations revealed that the crash occurred due to a series of errors made by the First Officer who was in control of the aircraft while the Captain of the flight took a brief period of rest - Upon entering the thunderstorm, the Airbus A330's speed indicators began malfunctioning, leading to confusion among the First Officer on whether to reduce or increase thrust, which eventually led him to stall the aircraft before it plummeted to the sea.
This incident was Air France's single most deadliest air-crash in the company's history and has not set the precedence within the commercial aviation sector to come up with action plans when dealing with stall warnings and speed-indications due to inclement weather.
Air France flight AF447 (GIG-CDG) Crash: The Full Investigation
The Boxing Day Earthquake and Tsunami in the Indian Ocean (December 26, 2004)
If there's a title for people my age and older to remember the most sobering moment of the 2000s (besides 9/11), it would most certainly have to be the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami which struck on the morning of Boxing Day, 2004. I personally remember this day more clearly than any other as it was actually this earthquake which woke me up at roughly 6:00 AM in my parent's 18 floor high apartment in Delhi, India - while Delhi didn't feel the earthquake at all, the reason I woke up was due to our indoor chimes buzzing for some odd reason despite the fact there was no wind at all.
Within a few hours, the news was out that the world had actually witnessed one of the most powerful and devastating earthquakes - measuring 9.1 on the Richter scale, the undersea quake hit off the Indian Ocean coast near Sumatra, Indonesia (near the town of Banda Aceh) when the Indian plate subducted under the Burma Plate, giving rise to high tidal waves or tsunamis which wiped out populations from as far as East Africa to Maldives, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. The quake was in fact so severe, that the Earth's actual axial tilt suffered a change in its declination and the duration of the day was altered.
All in all, over 225,000 people were killed and over a million were displaced, making it probably the deadliest natural disaster of modern times. Part of reason for such a massive loss of life and property was that unlike the Pacific countries which were used to tsunamis, many countries bordering the Indian Ocean were completely unprepared for dealing with post-quake tidal surges (some hitting as high as 30 m on Dec 26 2004) which were the primary cause for the unprecedented scale of destruction. Post the Boxing day Earthquake, most countries around the Indian Ocean implemented tsunami warning systems should another catastrophe of a similar scale occur again.
Between 2000 and 2009, Sumatra was hit by an 8+ earthquake again but the damage was far less the second time as against the Boxing Day Tsunami.
The Boxing Day, 2004 Earthquake and Tsunami Documentary
Hurricane Katrina (August 23-30, 2005)
Mocked by Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden as 'God's Wrath on America' for its illegal invasion on Iraq, Hurricane Katrina was one of the deadliest Atlantic Hurricanes to lash the US East Coast during the 2005 summer storm season and was the deadliest across the 2000s.
Forming over the Caribbean, Katrina quickly raced north-west as a Category-1 hurricane and caused moderate damage along the Florida coast but then intensified to a Category-5 hurricane over the Gulf of Mexico, thanks to unusually hot water temperatures. Katrina eventually dwindled down to a Category-3 hurricane before making landfall on the Louisiana coast at New Orleans but was strong enough to cause massive destruction (costing in excess of $80 billion USD, the highest since Hurricane Andrew's toll in 1992).
Katrina remained an intense tropical storm well past its going inland and majority of Katrina's damage was caused not due to the hurricane itself but to the systematic failure of infrastructure in and around New Orleans and the failure of the city's floodwater protection system - Flood waters and storm surges were in fact the main reasons for the extensive destruction seen by New Orleans and death toll was eventually confirmed as being in excess of 1000.
Katrina also raised some major concerns and controversies regarding the way US authorities handled the aftermath with some alleging that agencies like FEMA purposely delayed their responses to the damage and human suffering due to racism (The state of Louisiana like a few other south-Eastern US states predominantly being African-American in population).
In 2008, blame was squarely laid on FEMA and other authorities for their inadequate handling of Katrina's aftermath and the tragedy led to a massive reshuffle and reset of the way natural disasters like hurricanes would be dealt with in future when they strike the US.