2002-07-06 / Front Page

NTSB To Snub 587 Witness Meeting

By Howard Schwach

NTSB To Snub 587
Witness Meeting
By Howard Schwach

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has told The Wave and the Rockaway community thanks, but no thanks, by turning down an invitation by both this paper and Congressman Anthony Weiner to attend a meeting where the agency would be able to listen to what the eyewitnesses to the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 have to say.

The agency had been invited to listen to what was said with the promise that its representative would not have to participate or answer questions.

Just prior to press time, however, Ted Lopatkiewicz, the Director of Public Affairs for the NTSB, issued a statement saying that the agency would not attend the meeting. The statement also detailed the reasons for the agency’s decision to bypass the meeting.

He said, "While we appreciate Congressman Weiner's invitation to attend the public meeting next week on the crash of American Airlines flight 587, we also appreciate his understanding why we cannot attend.  The investigation is not yet complete and we are not in the position to answer the many questions your audience would undoubtedly have in such a forum - many of which would call for speculation or conclusions.  We have scheduled a public investigative hearing in the fall at which time many issues raised by this investigation will be discussed.  When our investigation is complete, we hope to know exactly what happened to flight 587, and issue safety recommendations to make sure such a tragedy doesn't happen again."

In a conversation held in Washington, D.C., Marion Blakey, the chairperson for the NTSB, made clear to Weiner that she believed that attending the meeting was not in the agency’s best interest to do so.

Weiner told The Wave that the NTSB indicated to him that the stories emanating from Rockaway and from various websites that regularly address the crash, contradict what the agency is finding during its investigation of the crash. It believes that attending the meeting would only "lend credibility" in the eyes of the media to those stories.

"The NTSB does not want to be in a position where the theorists overwhelm the scientists," the Congressman says.

Weiner told The Wave that he believes that the NTSB is wrong for not attending.

"While I have confidence that the NTSB will get to the bottom of the crash, I think that they are making a mistake by not attending the meeting and by not listening to what the witnesses say at the meeting," Weiner says. "Government agencies should be as open and responsive to the public as possible."

"Sometimes," Weiner adds, "they have to take their lumps."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is another who will not be attending the meeting.

When asked recently by Associate Editor Gary Toms about the meeting, the mayor responded by saying, "I don’t have any interest in attending any such meeting. I don’t want to subvert the NTSB’s investigation in any way. I believe that they are doing a fabulous job with the investigation, and what each eyewitness claims to have seen will vary from person to person. No one sees anything the same way."

Lopatkiewicz recently told a writer for the New York Times, "I don’t think I’m making any news by saying that eyewitness testimony at a plane crash, and at other traumatic events, is unreliable."

Subsequent to that, however, the NTSB director told The Wave that he wished that he had not used the word "unreliable" in that statement.

"The point was that eyewitness testimony is subjective and has to be evaluated in light of subsequent forensic evidence that is gathered during the ensuing months," he says. "That point was not made by my use of the word unreliable."

Charles Honts, a psychology professor and the editor of "The Journal of Credibility Assessment and Witness Psychology," told The Wave last week that the meeting "would probably not help much in finding out what happened to flight 587, but it will be good for the witnesses to talk about it, to share what they believe that they saw."

In October, the NTSB will host a meeting in Washington, D.C. to "take sworn testimony from persons on issues yet to be defined."

The NTSB says that no conclusions will be drawn at that meeting.

Lopatkiewicz says that the final meeting will be held sometime next year, at which time the board will adopt a final report on the crash.

The Rockaway witness meeting, sponsored by The Wave, will be held at The Beach Club (at the boardwalk on Beach 116 Street in Rockaway Beach) on Wednesday, July 10 at 7:30 p.m.

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