2002-07-20 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach
From the Editor’s Desk By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

By all accounts, the Flight 587 Witness meeting hosted by The Wave at the Beach Club a week ago went very well. More than 20 people from the local area – Rockaway, Broad Channel and Brooklyn, stood up and told the 150 people in the room what they had seen that day. Several aviation experts, including Stan Molin, a retired Eastern Airlines pilot whose son, Sten, was flying the A300-600 when it crashed into Belle Harbor, added their expertise.

When The Wave first decided to host a meeting for the crash witnesses, a local politician told us that we would "attract every kook in Rockaway" to our meeting.

While there were some who held non-traditional ideas about the crash, there were no "kooks" at the meeting and it is a shame that there was nobody from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) or the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) present at the meeting simply to hear the stories.

Had they done so, those agencies would no longer be sure that "twisted metal" told more of a story than eyewitnesses, who those agencies have declared to be "subjective" and "unreliable."

What surprises me more than the fact that neither the NTSB nor the FAA seems interested in the stories of the eyewitnesses, the media has shown even more disinterest with the story.

Both the Daily News and Newsday covered the story. Merle English was there for Newsday and Warren Woodberry, Jr. (along with a photographer) was there for the Daily News.

The meeting was held on Thursday. By Monday, there was still no mention of the meeting or the story in either daily paper. When I ran into Woodberry at the groundbreaking for Arverne By The Sea, I asked he when the witness story was expected to run. He said that he had "been too busy with other stories to put it together." He seemed evasive, but perhaps it was my own perception and he was just busy trying to get the Arverne story. The story about the meeting ran in the Daily News on Tuesday of this week. Newsday has yet to run the story.

Just two weeks ago, the New York Times did a long Sunday piece discrediting witnesses in general and more specifically the flight 587 witnesses. The paper went out of its way to "prove" that the witnesses’ sightings were "unreliable."

Now, we have two major daily papers virtually ignoring a story they had covered. I have to wonder why.

One of the experts at the witness meeting was a Boeing engineer named Brett Hoffstadt. He spoke eloquently about the Airbus engines and flight dynamics. He said that there was no way that the pilots "flew the tail off the plane," as had been suggested.

He wrote a long letter to Aviation Week, the industry’s premier magazine, asking why they had not covered the meeting, or at least shown an interest in what was said there.

He wrote, " Where was Av Week? Why wasn't somebody there from your staff? Will there be any account of this meeting in your publication? If not, why not? Forgive my bluntness, but if you don't see a newsworthy story here, I am shocked. I was at this meeting myself, and can tell you these witness accounts were far too specific, detailed, and consistent to be ignored or discounted. I'd like to ask your New York correspondent to do some basic reporting. (On site, not at a press conference!)

It's one thing for the major media to ignore or bury this story. It's a sad day indeed if the most respected aviation news publication decides the truth, or first-hand accounts, are better left unchecked.

Why were so many witnesses drawn to look at this aircraft because of an ‘explosive sound?’ Why did these same witnesses then see fire, smoke, falling debris, or other unusual events? If you heard the many accounts I did that night, you would have plenty of work to do. I don't know a lot about this incident, and it's a shame I have to travel 150 miles to try and learn about it.

Does your publication have a mission statement? I'd like to know where in that it says you will report and investigate important matters in the aerospace and aviation industry, except when they are politically incorrect. Why bother having a free press if you let our government dictate what the story is, or is not?"

Retired firefighter Tom Lynch has somewhat of the same thought. He wrote a letter to The Wave, detailing his thoughts. He wrote: "Having read the Daily News and Newsday on Friday and Saturday, and not seeing the story, I thought that they were probably holding the stories for Sunday’s editions. There was not a mention of the event in Sunday’s papers either. How could they ignore a story where more than 150 people expressed such concern?"

Lynch added, "What more can you expect of the media, when on January 7, six witnesses wrote a letter to the NTSB and only the New York Post thought it newsworthy."

I guess that it is possible that the articles will still appear in those daily papers almost a week later, but the chances of that happening seem more remote each passing day.

Many of those at the meeting stated a view that is gaining credulity in Rockaway. That view holds that the NTSB is covering up the real reason that flight 587 crashed and it pressuring the media to go along with them.

I found that hard to believe a month or two ago, but now I am no longer so sure.

That is not to say that the crash was a result of a terrorist act, although that is still a possibility. More likely, however is that the plane encountered some catastrophic failure while in the air that caused an explosion on the aircraft that then caused the tail and the engines to fall off prior to the crash.

Why would the NTSB want to cover that up?

Because, in the wake of the drop in ridership after September 11, another major problem with commercial aircraft might have killed the entire industry for years.

It would be much better for the industry if the NTSB could prove that the plane crashed because of pilot error or because of a mechanical problem on that one particular aircraft.

And, that is just what the agency is attempting to do. In an earlier update, the NTSB reported that the first officer, Sten Molin, had taken cold medicine prior to the flight. What was that meant to do, if not to implicate the pilot, and only the pilot, in the crash?

The Wave collected witness statements at the meeting last week. We will send copies of those statements to the NTSB, to the FAA, to Congressman Anthony Weiner, to Senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton and to anybody else who might be able to give the witnesses a voice.

I heard the witnesses and I believe that they saw what they said that they saw. The problem is, nobody seems to be listening.

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