- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 15, 2001

Crash investigators yesterday focused on the possibility that turbulence caused by a jumbo jet led to the crash of the American Airlines Airbus that killed 265 persons Monday in New York.
National Transportation Safety Board probers learned that American Airlines Flight 587 was so much closer than believed a minute and 45 seconds and less than five miles behind Japan Airlines Flight 47, that it may have been battered in the turbulent vortex of the Boeing 747's wake.
"We do not know if this really contributed in any way to the actual accident. But we are looking at this very closely," NTSB Chairman Marion C. Blakey said.
The plane's tail assembly was torn loose and its engines fell off as the jet crashed.
Current procedures say there should be at least two minutes between takeoffs.
However, Mrs. Blakey said it appeared there was less than that between Flight 587 and the Boeing 747 that left ahead of it from the same runway.
"We believe that in fact it was 1 minute and 45 seconds in terms of the actual distance," Mrs. Blakey said.
She said air traffic controllers appeared to follow current separation procedures, but suggested an increased distance may be in the cards.
"We certainly are going to be looking at that," Mrs. Blakey said.
She said analysis of radar data for both planes and an 11-knot wind from the northwest indicates turbulence was likely at the point where Flight 587 went to pieces and dropped onto a four-block wide strip of houses in a community in New York City's borough of Queens.
"This would be consistent with a wake-vortex encounter," Mrs. Blakey said.
Her investigative team offered no opinion on why else the A300-600 Airbus came apart in flight, but stood fast on the theory the disaster was an accident unrelated to the September 11 terrorist attacks.
"We are consistently looking for any sign that there may have been sabotage, criminal activity of any type. We have not detected any evidence of that at all," Mrs. Blakey said when asked if a bomb might have ripped the plane's tail loose.
"There is no evidence of a bomb. There is no evidence of sabotage to this point," she said. "We are vigilant about this, as is the FBI."
Loss of the Airbus just 87 seconds after it left the John F. Kennedy International Airport runway en route to Santo Domingo mystified investigators who found no marks or damage on the tail or engines that might indicate something hit them.
Flight 587's pilot, Capt. Edward States, was heard on a cockpit tape saying he felt wake turbulence at about the time the sensitive microphones picked up two episodes in which the entire plane structure was rattling.
"I don't know that we've had a failure in modern times of a tail on a commercial airplane, so I don't know there's any precedent, and we'll be looking very carefully at how the tail failed," NTSB member George W. Black Jr. said.
Monday's crash killed all 260 persons on the plane. Authorities recovered 262 bodies and said five local residents still are missing.
The Los Angeles Times reported initial analysis indicates the tail fin's structure was torn, leaving intact bolts that held it to the fuselage.
"Terrific forces tore off a tail and apparently the plane's two engines," American Airlines spokesman John Hotard said.
The fin was made not of metal but a graphite composite believed to be lighter and stronger than other materials.
Mr. Hotard did not elaborate on what forces might tear off the vital, 25-foot-tall vertical stabilizer and its rudder with no outward sign that either had been hit by a foreign object.
Both engines also separated from the wings before the crash, apparently several seconds after the tail fell into Jamaica Bay.
The rudder also was found in the bay, but in many pieces 200 yards closer to the shore of the Belle Harbor community.
Meanwhile, NTSB investigators ignored reports the "black box" flight data recorder found Tuesday across the street from the main wreckage was so badly damaged it would not yield answers at the NTSB laboratory.
By the afternoon, its Florida manufacturer took steps that allowed for the recovery of the information it held.
"We are reading out the data as we speak, in Washington," Mrs. Blakey told reporters in New York.


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