2002-06-08 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk By Howard Schwach

From the Editor's Desk
By Howard Schwach

The first week after the crash of American Airlines Flight 587, I wrote an editorial called "Coming Out Of The Woodwork," which detailed all of the theories that were circulating about the crash.

There were those who said that the plane was shot down by a missile shot from an air force fighter. There was a man who called me the next day to tell me that he was a Christian Lebanese, who was "ordered by Yasir Arafat to down the plane on Rockaway because there were too many Jews living there." There was the lady who told me that the plane stopped over her Beach 129 Street home and then "backed up" to the crash site. Another told me that Bulloch's Gas Station, on Beach 129 Street was a "CIA storage area," and that the engine was planted there for that reason. Then there was the story that the plane had been sabotaged by bin Laden to get even with a firefighter named Moran, who lived in Rockaway and said on TV that bin Laden could "kiss my Irish ___."

I was decidedly sure that the tail had come off the plane and that the plane fell into Belle Harbor.

As time went by, however, I became less sure.

Mixed in with the kooks who were coming out of the woodwork were solid observers, retired cops and firefighters, people trained in dealing with emergencies, who were saying that they saw fire and smoke on flight 587 even before the tail came off.

All in all, I have heard from nearly fifty people who say that they saw the plane in one form of extremis or another even before it reached the Rockaway peninsula.

Next, I began to read Vic Trombettas on his fantastic website (you can find it at www.usread.com). Vic completed a timeline that The Wave printed some time ago. It took the FAA's radio transmissions between the plane and the ground, the radar hits that gave the altitude and speed of the plane and the NTSB's early comments and put them all together.

They did not add up.

I went on to a number of aircraft websites, joined in with pilots in their chat rooms, left messages on their bulletin boards.

The messages I got back were all the same: The A300-600 has control problems. It is a dangerous aircraft. And, there is no way the pilots could have flown the tail off the plane, no matter how much they over controlled the rudder.

When I was in the Navy, my job on the Aircraft Carrier Franklin D. Roosevelt was as a court reporter. As such, I participated in lots of line of duty accident investigations. The first mantra of the investigators was "talk with the eye-witnesses."

Neither the NTSB nor the FBI ever talked to many of the witnesses in the local area who reported that they had seen the plane in trouble. Many of them have still not been interviewed, six months later.

The more the NTSB issued its monthly "updates," the more I believed that they were covering something up.

The clincher for me that something is wrong with the NTSB's investigation came with the May 3 press conference held in Virginia. Vic covered the conference for us and for his website.

He asked the pivotal question.

"We all know about the five rudder movements (the movements that are thought to be caused by wake turbulence and that supposedly caused the pilots to over control, ripping the tail from the planeâ014ed.), but can you tell us whether the crew's calling for maximum power and the crew's call of losing control were before, during or after those rudder movement?"

"We don't have that data now," the chairperson of the NTSB said. "We have yet to match up the CVR (cockpit voice recorder) with the FDR (flight data recorder). This is a complicated procedure and it will all be provided in the docket (the final report â013 ed.). We don't have it now."

Let's put this in perspective. It is almost seven months after the crash. The NTSB has tested the tail. It has tested the engines. It has tested the pilot's DNA and the first officer's DNA for drugs. It has issued several updates and held a press conference. It has posited that the first officer, who was flying the plane on departure, was responsible by "flying the tail off."

It has not yet coordinated the message being sent by the voices in the cockpit with the information being relayed by the plane to its flight recorder and the transmissions with the FAA. It has not spoken with eyewitnesses.

Soon after the crash, the NTSB proclaimed the crash an accident, removing the FBI from the investigative process. Who made that decision and why was it made so quickly?

When did the pilots "try escape," because the plane was faltering? When did the first officer call for "maximum power" in order to keep the plane in the air? Was it before the wake turbulence was reported, or after?

We will probably never know.

The tapes from the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) cannot be revealed by federal law. It took an act of Congress to allow the relatives of the people who died on September 11 when their plane crashed in Pennsylvania to hear the last moments of their relatives. We will surely never hear the tapes from flight 587 and will probably never even see transcripts of what was said.

To my mind, something is really wrong with the investigation. That does not mean that I believe the crash was a result of a terrorist plot. It could be that the A300-600 aircraft is dangerous, but the government and the airlines do not want the public to know that because it would lead to a demand to ground the valuable airplanes.

It could be lots of reasons.

I think, however, that the public has a right to know why that Airbus A300 came down in Rockaway. An absolute right.

The Wave will be hosting a forum for all of those who saw the plane in the air and reported that something was amiss with the aircraft.

The forum will be held at the Beach Club, at the foot of Beach 116 Street on Wednesday evening, July 10 at 7:30 p.m.

We invite anybody who wants to participate to come to the forum. We will invite local politicians and leaders as well. We hope that those who live outside of Rockaway but saw the plane will come to the forum and tell their stories.

Something is rotten with the NTSB investigation into the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 into Belle Harbor. It is time we learned the truth.

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