2002-03-02 / Front Page

CVR: Key To 587 Mystery?

By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

A little red box called a Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) may well become the key to solving the growing mystery of why American Airlines Flight 587 crashed in Belle Harbor.

While some tantalizing clues as to what is on the CVR from flight 587 have been dropped by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and the entire transcript of conversations between the tower and flight 587 and between air traffic control and flight 587 have been released, there is a good possibility that the public will never hear the tape from 587’s CVR.

"The CVR recordings are treated differently than the other factual information obtained in an accident investigation," says a spokesperson for the NTSB. "Due to the highly sensitive nature of the verbal communications inside the cockpit, Congress has required that the Safety Board not release any part of a CVR tape recording. Because of this sensitivity, a high degree of security is provided for the CVR tape and its transcript."

"The content and timing of the release of the written transcript are strictly regulated," the spokesperson adds. "Transcripts of pertinent portions of cockpit voice recordings are released at a Safety Board public hearing on the accident, or, if no hearing is held, when a majority of the factual reports are made public."

NTSB spokesperson Ted Lopatkiewicz has told The Wave that there may be such a hearing "sometime this summer," and probably in Washington, D.C.

There are those, however, who believe that what is on the CVR is critical to understanding the sequence of events leading up to the crash, and ultimately, the cause of the crash itself.

Victor Tromettas is a computer specialist with a large company in Manhattan. He lives in Queens. While he admits that he is not an expert on aircraft accidents, nor even a pilot, he has spent lots of time examining the material released by both the NTSB and the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) and he has culled some interesting tidbits from that material.

Tromettas says that NTSB spokesperson George Black, speaking at a news conference on November 16, provided the first clue.

"The pilots of flight 587 were probably unaware the tail fin and rudder had broken off as they struggled to control the plane," he is quoted as saying. "Without those parts, the jetliner would have suffered a loss of stability and turning control. They did not have a rearview mirror, they had no idea that they had lost the tail."

"When they started talking about max power – they’ve gone into recovery mode," he added. "And they might be recovering from the wrong thing, because they did not know that the tail fin was gone."

Like others who heard the statement and read the NTSB reports, Tromettas assumed that the command to go to max power heard on the CVR came after the unexplained swings in the rudder.

Those eight seconds when the tail began to swing have been the focus of the investigation.

In fact, a close check of the material released by the two agencies shows that the call for max power – the "recovery mode that Black speaks of – came 19 seconds prior to that time frame.

"I asked lots of aviation people about this," Tromettas told The Wave. "I asked them if the pilots would have called for max power if there was not a catastrophic event going on with the aircraft. They all told me that they would not have done that."

"If the call for max power came before the tail swings began, then the loss of control came before that time as well," he adds.

Tromettas has posted a map that includes a time line on his website at www.usread.com. That map shows the annotated flight paths of both flight 587 and the JAL heavy that reported caused the wake vortex and turbulence that may have brought 587 down in Rockaway.

His map also shows the location of a number of eyewitnesses who claim to have seen explosions and fire on the plane before it began to break up.

"There is a reason that the pilots called for max power prior to the fluctuations seen on the Flight Data Recorder," Tromettas says. "We won’t know that reason until the tape of the CVR is released."

If the NTSB has its way, that may never happen.

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