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Background Attack Aftermath Evidence Misinformation Analysis Memorial

Flight 587

The Mysterious Crash of AA Flight 587

On November 12th, 2001, American Airlines Flight 587, an Airbus A-300, took off from Kennedy International Airport destined for the Dominican Republic. About two minutes later the jet fell into Jamaca Bay, killing all 260 people on board, and 5 people on the ground. Comming just two months after the 9/11/2001 attack and just 11 miles away from Ground Zero, the crash was the second most deadly aviation incident within the United States, exceeding the fatallities of all four jetliners commandeered on 9/11.

Illustration from NTSB report

The crash was apparently unique in aviation history in that it was precipitated by the separation of the vertical stabilizer followed by the separation of both engines in substantially level flight.

Wikipedia summarizes the NTSB's conclusions as follows:

The A300-600, which took off just minutes after a Japan Airlines Boeing 747 on the same runway, flew into the larger jet's wake, an area of very turbulent air. The first officer attempted to keep the plane upright with aggressive rudder inputs. The strength of the air flowing against the moving rudder stressed the aircraft's vertical stabilizer and eventually snapped it off entirely, causing the aircraft to lose control and crash. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that the enormous stress on the rudder was due to the first officer's unnecessary and excessive rudder inputs, and not the wake caused by the earlier Japan Airlines 747 that had crossed that area. In fact, if the first officer had stopped making additional inputs, the aircraft would have stabilized.[1] However, contributing to these rudder pedal inputs were characteristics of the Airbus A300-600 sensitive rudder system design and elements of the American Airlines Advanced Aircraft Maneuvering Training Program.

Investigators were concerned in regard to the manner in which the tail fin separated. The tail fin is connected to the fuselage with six attaching points. Each point has two sets of nuts, one made out of composite material, another out of aluminum, all connected by a titanium bolt; damage analysis showed that the bolts and aluminum lugs were intact, but not the composite lugs. The idea that the composites were faulty caused fear because they are used in other areas of the plane, including the engine mounting and the wings. Examinations of the construction and materials gave the plane a clean bill of health.

The official NTSB report of October 26, 2004 stated that the cause of the crash was the overuse of the rudder to counter wake turbulence.[2] The smoke and fire resulted from fuel leakage as the engines separated from the wings due to huge g-forces, or engine compressor surges.

More than one hundred seventy eye witnesses reported an explosion or fire while the plane was in the air -- reports that are explained away as "reconstructive memories" by a professor of psychology cited by the New York Times. 1  

The crash site in Rockaway was home to many of the firefighters and police officers killed in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. 2  


1. Ideas & Trends; For Air Crash Detectives, Seeing Isn't Believing, New York Times, 6/23/2002 [cached]
2. Feds eye engines in air crash, 11/12/2001 [cached]

page last modified: 2008-08-10