On November 12, 2001, at approximately 9:17 a.m., American Airlines flight 587, an Airbus A-300-600, N14053, crashed into a neighborhood in Belle Harbor, New York, several minutes after taking off from Kennedy International Airport. The plane was on a scheduled flight to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. All 260 persons aboard the plane died, as did 5 on the ground. The following is an update of factual information developed during the Safety Board’s investigation.
The Safety Board’s command post near Kennedy Airport was closed on Sunday. Except as mentioned below, all NTSB investigators have returned to their headquarters to continue the inquiry.
Investigators have continued to extract data from the flight recorders - the flight data recorder (FDR) and the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) - since their recovery last week, as well as radar data. The Safety Board has calculated that the time between flight 587’s liftoff from Runway 31L until the end of the recorded FDR data is 93 seconds. The CVR continued to record information for about 10 more seconds (this is a correction of the time announced last week); it is believed the CVR ends at or about the time of the plane’s impact with the ground. Therefore, the Board estimates that the time from lift off to impact was 103 seconds.
Based on radar data, flight 587 took off approximately 105 seconds behind Japan Airlines flight 47, a Boeing 747. The FDR indicates that flight 587 encountered two wake vortices generated by JAL flight 47. The second wake encounter occurs about 8 seconds before the end of the FDR data. For the first few seconds after the second wake encounter, the aircraft responded to flight control inputs. Both wake encounters averaged about 0.1 G lateral (side to side) movement. During the last 8 seconds of FDR data, the plane experienced three stronger lateral movements, two to the right of 0.3 and 0.4 Gs, and then one to the left of 0.3 Gs. These lateral forces corresponded in time with rudder movements. The NTSB continues to investigate the cause of the rudder movements.
The FDR’s rudder data becomes unreliable about 2.5 seconds before the end of the recording, and sound spectrum analysis shows that engine sounds can be heard on the cockpit voice recorder beyond that point. The rudder and tail fin were found first in the wreckage path, followed by the engines and then by the main wreckage impact point at the intersection of Newport and 131st Street, Belle Haven, New York.
The Safety Board has dispatched its Aircraft Performance Group Chairman to Toulouse, France to work with BEA (NTSB’s counterpart agency in France) and Airbus Industrie engineers to further extract the accident aircraft’s flight profile and expected performance.
The wreckage from flight 587 has been moved to a temporary storage facility at Floyd Bennett Field. Visual examination of the tail fin and rudder assemblies was conducted in a hangar there. Arrangements are being made to transfer portions of those components to another facility for more detailed examination.
While at the scene, the Safety Board reported that a jack screw associated with the rudder trim system found in the wreckage showed a 10 degree left trim setting. Further examination of that jack screw, along with readings off the flight data recorder, show that the trim setting appears to be close to neutral. The aircraft’s wing flaps appear to have been retracted at the time of impact, and the landing gear appear to have been stowed, based on both physical evidence and FDR readings.
Both engines were examined at the crash site and at a hangar at Kennedy Airport. No evidence was found of an uncontained engine failure, loss of blades, bird strike or in-flight fire. The thrust reversers were in the stowed position. The engines will be taken to the American Airlines maintenance facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma for a detailed tear-down in a few weeks.
The Witness Group has interviewed 40 persons who have provided either eyewitness accounts of the accident itself or believe they have knowledge that would help the investigation, and is reviewing over 100 statements collected by other agencies. Anyone who believes he or she has information that would be of assistance to the National Transportation Safety Board should contact Luke Schiada, Witness Group Chairman, at (973) 334-6561.
In 1994, the accident aircraft experienced a turbulence incident near San Juan, Puerto Rico, that resulted in several dozen passenger injuries. The aircraft was inspected by American Airlines maintenance personnel after that incident, and they reported no damage to the tail structure.
On May 11, 1999, a different American Airlines Airbus 300-600, N7082A, experienced multiple rudder deflections while on final approach to Miami, Florida. The airplane landed without incident. Investigation revealed that the autopilot’s wiring had been cross-connected by airline maintenance personnel in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The aircraft was repaired. Airbus issued an advisory to all operators of their aircraft to check for wiring cross-connects, and the FAA and its counterpart agency in France followed with Airworthiness Directives. One other aircraft was found to have a similar cross-connect and it, too, was repaired.
The process of identifying victims and returning them to their loved ones is under the jurisdiction of the Chief Medical Examiner of the City of New York. That office can be contacted at (212) 447-2034.
Each investigative group (structures, power plants, etc.) will continue to document factual information. Many facilities in the United States and abroad will undoubtedly be used in the coming months; in just the investigation’s first week, investigators have been to New York; Tulsa; Washington, D.C.; and France.
Since the crash of flight 587, Safety Board Chairman Marion C. Blakey and Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller have remained in contact and the FBI has been an active participant in the investigation. So far, the Safety Board has found nothing in the wreckage or the flight recorder information to indicate that the crash of flight 587 was anything other than an aviation accident.
Although the Safety Board’s investigation into the cause of the flight 587 tragedy will take more than a year, recommendations to address safety concerns can be issued at any time during the investigation.