Flight 587 Update - "Evasive"
By Victor Trombettas
At the May 3rd NTSB/NASA Press Conference in Hampton, Virginia, I had the opportunity to ask NTSB Chairman Marion Blakey the following question: "We mentioned the five rudder movements this morning. The crew comments calling for max power and also their comments that they had lost control, where do they come in relation to those five rudder movements ... before, during, or after?"
The Chairman's answer: "One of the things we're doing, of course, is matching up the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) information with the FDR (Flight Data Recorder) data. As you know, that's a complicated process takes a long time to do. All of that will be provided for the Docket when we have it but we don't have it now."
A video and mp3 clip of this brief exchange between Blakey and me is available at www.usread.com.
The Chairman was saying, that six months after the second worst aviation accident in the United States, the NTSB had not yet finished synchronizing the CVR with the FDR and the FAA Tower tapes. "All of that will be provided for the Docket when we have it but we don't have it now." The docket is the cache of factual reports that will be released at the public hearings, which will probably take place in D.C. later this year.
Unfortunately for the NTSB, their "we're sorry, we don't have that info now" routine doesn't square with reality. Based on a synchronization of CVR and FDR information the NTSB had done and made public back in November during their week in New York, and information from their first "Update" on November 20th, and a February 8th Safety Recommendation, the Pilot's calls for "max power" came before the rudder movements and the alleged 2nd wake encounter. The heart-wrenching declaration less than 2 seconds later that they were "losing control" came as the rudder movements were just getting started. More importantly, "max power" and "losing control" came 6.5 and 4.5 seconds, respectively, before the time the NTSB believes the vertical stabilizer and rudder broke away. This plane was doomed before the alleged 2nd wake encounter, before the rudder movements, and before the separation of the tail.
Clearly, if the NTSB felt confident enough back in November to announce the time-stamps of milestone events on board the plane, then by May of the following year the expectation would be that their timeline would be nailed down tight. The Chairman's answer implies they have less confidence now than they did six months ago. That can't be. Why would the NTSB refuse to publicly acknowledge the implications of the facts I've outlined above? If the time-stamps they released in November were incorrect the assumption is they would have informed us of corrections as part of their monthly updates. There have been no corrections.
The one word comes to my mind is "evasive." A Former Air Safety Investigator for the U.S. Government had a much more colorful metaphor to describe his assessment of the Chairman's answer. Too nasty to print. A CVR/FDR expert stated "I believe the NTSB is terminally dead in the putrid waters of political scum". Ouch.
The Chairman did not want to get into a public discussion about the implications of the pilots of 587 being in a desperate situation before the alleged 2nd wake encounter, before the five rudder movements recorded on the FDR, and before the rudder and tail broke away. To acknowledge these facts would instantly weaken the subliminal theories slowly taking root in the hearts and minds of some ... that a combination of wake turbulence and Pilot over-control broke the rudder and tail. But more importantly, the implications of the timeline point to an initiating event or series of events internal to the plane. In other words, something that cannot be attributed to a freak encounter with wake vortices, or to Pilot actions. The NTSB insists there is no evidence of terrorism, nor was there ever. If there was no fire or explosion on board 587 (and, obviously, the FBI has not ruled this out because they were still interviewing witnesses in March who had seen in-flight fire) then there was clearly a catastrophic loss of flight control brought on by a mechanical and/or structural failure that has yet to be identified. If the NTSB (and the FAA and American Airlines for that matter, as they are parties to this investigation) do not understand the implications of the timeline then it's time we all got a new NTSB. If they do understand its implications, then they are playing Russian roulette with public safety because an Airbus A300 ripped itself apart in-flight, they don't know why, and yet they continue to fly these planes.
As I've reported previously, we've identified one of the Flight 587 Pilots as stating "Try Escape" on the FAA tape, 12.5 seconds before the time the NTSB believes the rudder and tail broke (the FAA had unfortunately transcribed "try escape" as "nice game"). This call for the "escape" procedure is significant because it occurs 13 seconds after the first alleged wake encounter. An encounter the NTSB told us back in November left the plane's attitudes "unchanged" (attitude is the combination of the plane's roll, pitch and yaw angles). Flight 587 had gained 500 to 700 feet after that first "encounter". The "escape" call comes 7 seconds before the alleged 2nd wake encounter. The call for escape, the call for max power, the desperate cry that they had lost control, all came before the separation of the tail. They came before the five rudder movements.