- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 14, 2001

Federal investigators said yesterday the co-pilot of doomed American Airlines Flight 587 called for "max power" four seconds after the frame of his A300 Airbus was rattled twice, possibly by the wake of a larger plane.
Nineteen seconds later, both engines and the tail inexplicably began tearing free of the plane, which had just taken off for Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, from John F. Kennedy International Airport. The pieces and the rest of the aircraft began falling in a straight line down into the ground. All 260 persons aboard were killed, as apparently were five persons missing from homes that the plane hit.
National Transportation Safety Board officials all but ruled out bird strikes or spontaneous disintegration of engine parts as causes of Monday's crash during a dramatic news conference where NTSB Chairman Marion C. Blakey said the probe was "coming to a head."
Her unusual optimism about the search for an answer so soon, and elimination of several important theories so early in an investigation of a major airline disaster, were extraordinary.
Mrs. Blakey said the Airbus' rudder was pulled yesterday from Jamaica Bay, where the tailfin was found Monday. The find increased the riddle of why tail sections would fall first, even before the denser engine that apparently broke loose in flight.
"The most perplexing issue is what the vertical stabilizer was doing in the water, virtually untouched. They've got to figure out why that happened," said Peter Goelz, former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board. He said that if the tail had been knocked off by an engine tearing from its wing mounts, the engine also would be in the water, closer to Kennedy Airport than the large white tailfin.
Last night, NTSB member George W. Black Jr. said the fin was closest to Kennedy Airport, the rudder was found 200 yards closer to land, engine No. 1 from the left wing fell at the gas station on 119th Street, engine No. 2 crashed into a boat in a driveway on 128th Street.
The bulk of the plane came straight down onto houses between 131st and 132nd streets, punctuating the straight line of debris.
Just 144 seconds after engines were revved up at the end of the runway, and 87 seconds from the moment the plane lifted off toward the northwest on Runway 31 Left, it climbed to 2,800 feet, turned south and dropped off the radar screen at 9:16 a.m.
Disclosures of the final 37 seconds gleaned from cockpit sound recordings were revealed after Mrs. Blakey announced yesterday the discovery in the wreckage of the more sophisticated flight data recorder which she called "a major breakthrough."
The recorder's case was badly bent and damaged, however, and the work of removing its protective shell last night delayed the start of analysis.
Mr. Black discussed the recordings which captured not only the voices of pilot Capt. Edward States and co-pilot Sten Molin but also engine sounds and other noises.
Those noises included what Mr. Black called "airframe rattling sounds," apparently when something shook the huge airliner's structure, even though it was a clear day and there was no reported turbulence.
When asked how loud the rattling had been, he said, "Significant enough for them to make note of it."
In between the two rattles, Mr. Black said, Mr. States mentioned a "wake encounter," rough air presumably from another airliner that took off earlier. Mr. Black said a Japan Air Lines 747 preceded Flight 587 on takeoff but drew no connection between that and the crash.
Mr. Black said the JAL aircraft took off two minutes and 20 seconds ahead of Flight 587, more than the two-minute minimum separation that the Federal Aviation Administration requires.
Four seconds after the second rattling sound, Mr. Molin called for "max power" which was followed by what Mr. Black said were "comments about the lack of power."
Then the tape ends.
The other part of Mr. Black's announcement eliminated two widely discussed theories seeking to explain the loss of an engine in flight, either the disintegration of engine parts or strikes by large birds.
"Initial inspection shows no evidence of any sort of failure, internal failure, of the engine. They all appear to be in one piece," said Mr. Black. "There's no evidence of any bird strike."
Attention has focused on engines from that plane, which was the oldest of American Airlines' 35 A300s, because witnesses reported seeing the one on the right wing break loose and fall into the Belle Harbor community Monday just before the fuselage drilled into a cluster of houses.
For years, U.S. airlines have been criticized by mechanics unions, principally the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and the Transport Workers Union, who say major engine maintenance is farmed out to less-qualified workers overseas.
Investigators anxiously marked up maps of the scattered debris field, listing where each piece of the Airbus was found in hopes that would provide a clue as to why the tailfin and rudder fell first over water, despite the absence of marks to indicate what tore them loose from the fuselage.
Although believed to be an accident, sabotage or other crimes have not been totally ruled out.
"We're not going to exclude that possibility until the investigation goes much further than this," Mr. Black said on NBC's "Today" show.
The FBI continued its normal parallel investigation which technically is under NTSB direction but would swiftly take control if evidence of a crime is found.
Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani amended casualty figures slightly yesterday, saying rescue workers recovered 262 bodies including a man still holding a baby. All of the plane's 251 passengers and nine crew were reported dead and five adults were missing in Belle Harbor.
On Oct. 5, federal safety officials concluded there was an unsafe condition in the type of engine used in Flight 587 and called for mandatory inspections of the 2,854 engines in service.
General Electric, parent company for the engine maker, called them "phenomenally reliable." The CF6-80C2 engine is used on more than 1,000 aircraft, including President Bush's Air Force One.


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