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Opening Statement at Public Hearing for Investigation of American Airlines Flight 587, Belle Harbor, New York, November 12, 2001
Carol Carmody
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Public Hearing for Investigation of American Airlines Flight 587, Belle Harbor, New York, November 12, 2001, Washington, DC

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, and welcome.

I am Carol Carmody, Acting Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, and Chairman of this Board of Inquiry.

Today we are opening a public hearing concerning the accident that occurred on November 12, 2001, at Belle Harbor, New York, involving American Airlines flight 587.

Let me acknowledge that in our audience today are family members of those who lost their lives in this accident. I wish to express my profound condolences for your loss on behalf of the National Transportation Safety Board, and also on behalf of all the parties who have joined this investigation. We cannot change the tragedy of November 12, but we can assure the families of the passengers and crew that the Safety Board will pursue every lead in search of answers for the cause of this accident - the second deadliest aviation accident in American history.

Our nation was still stunned by the events of September 11 when we learned of the crash of flight 587 on the morning of November 12, 2001. Although there were no indications of terrorist activity associated with the crash, that possibility could not be discounted. Therefore, in addition to the NTSB Go Team that was dispatched to the crash scene, the Federal Bureau of Investigation also sent a team to the site, and that agency has been in regular touch with the Board ever since. There is no indication to date of any criminal activity associated with this crash.

Information from this hearing will supplement the facts, conditions, and circumstances discovered during the on-scene and continuing investigation. This process will assist the Safety Board in determining the probable cause of the accident and in making any recommendations to prevent similar accidents in the future. We will not render a determination of cause during these proceedings.

As our Investigator-in-Charge, Robert Benzon, will relate shortly, this inquiry has taken investigators not just to New York, but to France, Germany, Oklahoma, Virginia, Arizona, Washington State and California. The volumes of pages of information we've released this morning is the work of scores of investigators representing government and private industry.

The purpose of this hearing is two-fold. First, the issues - mostly highly technical in nature - that will be discussed at this hearing will assist the Safety Board in developing additional factual information to be analyzed for the purpose of determining the probable cause of the accident. Second, this hearing gives the aviation community, and the traveling public, a chance to see a portion of the investigative process, and a view of the dedicated efforts being put forth by investigators from many different organizations, to find answers. (The hearing is available as a live web cast through the Safety Board's website at

Public hearings such as this are exercises in accountability:

  • Accountability on the part of the Safety Board that it is conducting a thorough and fair investigation;
  • Accountability on the part of the FAA that it is adequately regulating the industry;
  • Accountability on the part of the airline that it is operating safely;
  • Accountability on the part of manufacturers as to the design and performance of their products;
  • Accountability on the part of the work force -- including pilots and mechanics -- that they are performing up to the high standards of professionalism expected of them.
As previously stated, these proceedings tend to become highly technical affairs, but they are essential in seeking to reassure the public that everything is being done to ensure the safety of the airline industry.

This Board of Inquiry is not intended to determine the rights or liability of private parties, and matters dealing with such rights or liability will be excluded from these proceedings. Our purpose is to collect information that will assist the Safety Board in its examination of safety issues arising from this accident. Specifically, we will concentrate on the following issues:

  1. The design and certification of the vertical stabilizer and rudder;
  2. The rudder system design, certification and operation;
  3. Wake turbulence;
  4. Operations and training.
At this point, I would like to introduce the other members of the Board:
Member John Hammerschmidt
Member John Goglia
Member George Black
The Board will be assisted by a Technical Panel consisting of the following Safety Board staff:
Mr. Robert Benzon, Investigator in Charge;
Ms. Lorenda Ward, Hearing Officer;
Mr. John Clark, Director of Aviation Safety;
Mr. Tom Haueter, Deputy Director of Aviation Safety;
Dr. Vern Ellingstad, Director of Research and Engineering;
Dr. Allan Kushner, Deputy Director of Research and Engineering;
Mr. Brain Murphy, Structures Group Chairman;
Mr. Steve Magladry, Systems Group Chairman;
Captain David Ivey, Operations Group Chairman;
Dr. Malcolm Brenner, Human Performance Group Chairman;
Mr. John O'Callaghan, Aircraft Performance Group Chairman;
Dr. Matt Fox, Materials Group Chairman.
Since this accident involved a foreign manufactured airplane, in accordance with Annex XIII of the Chicago Convention, the Technical Panel will also include members from the BEA, the French equivalent of the NTSB; Mr. Pierre Jouniaux, Mr. Bernard Bourdon, and Mr. Thierry Loo.

Mr. Ted Lopatkiewicz and his colleagues from the Safety Board's Public Affairs Office are here to assist members of the news media.

Ms. Brenda Yager and Ms. Sharon Bryson from the Office of Transportation Disaster Assistance are here to assist any family members in the audience.

Mrs. Carolyn Dargan and Ms. Christine Carey are present to provide administrative support as needed. They will also be providing copies of exhibits to the witnesses.

Neither I nor any other Safety Board personnel will attempt, during this hearing, to analyze the testimony received nor will any attempt be made at this time to determine the probable cause of the accident. Such analyses and cause determinations will be made by the full Safety Board after consideration of all of the evidence gathered during our investigation. The final report on the accident involving flight 587, reflecting the Safety Board's analyses and probable cause determinations, will be considered for adoption by the full Board at a public meeting here at the Safety Board's headquarters at a later date.

The Safety Board's rules provide for the designation of parties to a public hearing. In accordance with these rules, those persons, governmental agencies, companies, and associations whose participation in the hearing is deemed necessary in the public interest and whose special knowledge will contribute to the development of pertinent evidence are designated as parties. The parties assisting the Safety Board in this hearing have been designated in accordance with these rules.

As I call the name of each party, would the designated spokesperson please give his or her name, title, and affiliation for the record:

Federal Aviation Administration Mr. Harold "Bud" Donner
American Airlines, Inc Mr. Tim Ahearn
Airbus Dr. John Lauber
Allied Pilots Association Captain Donald Pitts
I want to thank publicly all of the private, municipal, county, state and federal agencies that have supported the Safety Board throughout the investigation.

On October 21, 2002, the Board of Inquiry held a prehearing conference in this facility. It was attended by the Safety Board's Technical Panel and representatives of the parties to this hearing. During that conference, the areas of inquiry and the scope of the issues to be explored at this hearing were delineated and the selection of the witnesses to testify on these issues was finalized.

Copies of the witness list developed at the prehearing conference are available in the foyer. There are numerous exhibits that will be used in this proceeding. Copies of the exhibits may be ordered through our Public Inquiries Branch at 202-314-6551, and can be found on the Board's web site,

The witnesses testifying at this hearing have been selected because of their ability to provide the best available information on the issues of aviation safety pertinent to this accident investigation.

The Investigator-in-Charge of the accident investigation will summarize certain facts about the accident and the investigative activities that have taken place to date. Following this, the first witness will be called.

The witnesses will be questioned first by the Board's Technical Panel, then by the designated spokesperson for each party to the hearing, finally followed by the Board Members.

As Chairman of the Board of Inquiry, I will be responsible for the conduct of the hearing. I will make all rulings on the admissibility of evidence, and all such rulings will be final.

The record of the investigation including the transcript of the hearing and all exhibits entered into the record will become part of the Safety Board's public docket on this accident and will be available for inspection at the Board's Washington office. Anyone wanting to purchase the transcript, including parties to the investigation, should contact the court reporter directly.

Mr. Benzon are you ready to summarize the investigation and enter the exhibits into the public docket? Please take the witness stand and proceed.

[IIC Summary]

Thank you Mr. Benzon. Ms. Ward would you please call the first witness.


AA587 Investigation