2002-02-23 / Front Page

Did ATC Put 587 Over Belle Harbor?

By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

At 9:13 a.m. on November 12 of last year, American Airlines Flight 587, designated by air traffic controllers as "American 587 Heavy," a term used for large aircraft, was cleared for takeoff by the tower at John F. Kennedy Airport.

The following, detailed in tapes just released by the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA), provides little clue as to what happened to flight 587 and why it crashed, but does provide an insight into the plane’s final minutes.

The following transmissions between the plane and the JFK tower. and between the plane and air traffic control, make it clear that the plane was first ordered by the tower to "fly the bridge," that is to take the Breezy Track out over the Marine Parkway Bridge. Just two minutes later, however, it was ordered by air traffic control to "proceed direct wavey."

According to the FAA, "wavey" is a designated "departure fix" approximately 30 miles offshore. A number of flight paths can be used to get to "wavey," including the Breezy Track and a number of paths that would have taken the aircraft over Rockaway.

"That point does not designate the track the plane is to take," the FAA spokesperson says. "It is just a fix off the East Coast that we use for planes heading south."

Even so, airplane experts say that the command to "turn left" to get to point "wavey" could indicate that the plane had ATC approval to fly over Rockaway.

The transcript released by the FAA reads:

Tower: American 587…cleared for takeoff. 587 Heavy.

Flight 587: Cleared for takeoff, American 587 Heavy.

Tower: American 587 Heavy. Turn left, fly the bridge, climb, contact New York Departure. Good morning.

Flight 587: American 587 Heavy, so long.

Flight 587: Flight 587 Heavy. Thirteen hundred feet, climbing to 5,000.

ATC: American 587 Heavy, New York Departure radar contact. Climb and maintain one-three thousand.

Flight 587: One-three, that’s for American 587 Heavy.

ATC: American 587 Heavy, turn left, proceed direct wavey,

Flight 587: Turn direct wavey, American 587 Heavy.

That was the last that was heard from the aircraft.

Just one minute later, a JetBlue pilot radioed the tower, "Tower, look to the south, there is an aircraft crashing."

It is also interesting that several pilots who saw the plane crash, the fireball when it hit and the dense, black smoke pouring into the sky, could not identify the area in which the plane fell as the Rockaway peninsula.

"It’s right off to the left of the approach end of the runway, but all the way on the southern portion of Long Island," one commercial pilot told the control tower.

"It’s just about in the middle of a land mass…south-southeast of the old Floyd Bennett Field…it’s a big, intense fire down there," the pilot of a twin-engine private plane said.

According to Ted Lopatkiewicz, a spokesperson for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), there may be a public hearing on the crash of flight 587 "sometime this summer."

"The board has not yet voted to hold a hearing," Lopatkiewicz told The Wave. "The board has to vote on whether to hold a meeting, what issues will be discussed at that meeting and where it will be held."

"We have meeting facilities here in Washington," he added, "and that will most likely be where the meeting will be held."

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