The vaulted roof of a new, showcase terminal at Charles de Gaulle Airport outside Paris -- touted as a jewel of design, safety and comfort -- collapsed early Sunday, killing at least five people and forcing authorities to revisit problems that preceded the fanfare opening of Terminal 2E less than a year ago.
The 98-foot section of roof fell just before 7 a.m. as passengers were starting to arrive.
Of those confirmed dead, one was Chinese and the four others also were apparently foreigners, said Michel Clerel, chief doctor of Aeroports de Paris, which runs the airport.
Rescue workers sent dogs to sniff for victims buried under the pile of twisted steel, boulders of concrete and shattered glass. Officials said that a sixth person might have been killed and that the victims were probably passengers.
The chief doctor also said three people were injured, all of them police who had been called to the scene when signs of trouble appeared.
"Witnesses heard a cracking and noticed cracks in the ceiling and saw dust falling," said Pierre Graff, president of Aeroports de Paris. "They, of course, ran away. Police arrived and began evacuating people."
Within about two to three minutes, the roof collapsed, said Rene Brun, the airport director.
An Air France flight from New York and another from Johannesburg had arrived just ahead of the collapse, and a third plane was taking off for Prague. Michel Sappin, prefect for the Seine-Saint-Denis region, where Roissy is located north of Paris, said only a moderate number of passengers were in the terminal at the early hour.
"It looks pretty bad out there," said Amy Haight, 30, arriving later from Houston with her husband, Nelson, for a friend's wedding. She said she saw the collapsed building and dozens of rescue vehicles as her plane landed. "It's so sad, it's so scary. My God, we're so lucky."
The futuristic, cylindrical terminal sits on pylons, and when the roof fell, it pulled down outer walls and crashed through a boarding ramp onto several parked cars below.
President Jacques Chirac asked that investigators quickly determine the cause of the collapse. Two separate probes were being opened. Transport Minister Gilles de Robien said there was nothing to indicate a terrorist attack.
The terminal, a tunnel-shaped construction that is hundreds of yards long, was evacuated and immediately shut down, delaying scores of flights.
"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 $890 million terminal, with slots for 17 aircraft, opened to the public last June 25 after at least two construction delays.
Also, a huge light fixture fell in the departure area as inspectors were checking the facility before its opening, and there were leaks in the ceiling, said Brun, the airport director.
Still, he and other officials said the problems were not structural. "There were never signs of cracks or other major abnormalities," Brun said.