2002-08-17 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

Just how much do we know about the crash of flight 587? Since the November crash, The Wave has been the only periodical in North America to cover the story on a regular basis, and we are far from knowing what really happened.

In last week’s edition, I addressed the crash in this space, detailing the theories of David Rose, a British journalist who wrote a long-form article for this month’s Vanity Fair magazine. Rose, after months of investigation and interviews, believes that the crash is due to a combination of a defective empennage (tail) and a computerized control system gone bad. He may well be right.

The NTSB keeps telling us that the "twisted metal" tells its investigators that there was no fire, no smoke, no explosion until the plane hit the ground.

Eyewitnesses tell us that they saw smoke, fire and explosions on the plane while it was still in the air.

The NTSB tells us that eyewitness accounts are "subjective" and "unreliable."

The FAA says that it has begun new flight paths that take the majority of planes departing Runway 31L during the evening hours away from Rockaway.

Congressman Anthony Weiner says that statistics provided by the FAA show that the agency is telling the truth. Weiner also praises the NTSB. This at a time when every person who lives on the west end knows that more planes are flying over the peninsula, not fewer, and that the planes are flying lower than every before.

Again, unreliable eyewitnesses! We wrongly believe that there are more planes, that they are flying lower, that a Concorde in trouble flew low over Rockaway just two weeks ago, that a large passenger jet did not come low over Rockaway and then barely miss the Marine Parkway Bridge. It is all in our imagination. Those damned unreliable eyewitnesses all over again.

Those who are involved with planetary movement know that we can find something that we cannot see but that it there by seeing how other bodies react to the invisible body.

So it may be with American Airlines Flight 587.

It was an American Airlines A300-600 that crashed in Rockaway. The airline would love it if the NTSB found that the problem lies only with that particular plane or that particular pilot, because then it would not reflect badly on the fleet of 35 A300-600’s that the line flies to South and Central America. The NTSB also seems to be moving in the direction of blaming the crash on the pilot rather than on the plane.

Roger Purdy was the Fleet Standards Manager for the Airbus A300. He worked for American Airlines, and it was his job to insure that the aircraft were kept up to flight standards – that they were safe.

Purdy resigned a short time ago, although his resignation was unexpected and he took a large pay cut to go back to a position as a pilot who gives other pilots their flight checks.

According to published reports, Purdy, who is married and has eight children, wrote a resignation letter that has turned up on the Internet.

Why did he resign? Todd Burke, speaking for American Airlines, stated that is was "not uncommon to have Fleet Manager’s to go back to their previous job". Surprisingly, Todd Burke acknowledged he had not seen Roger’s resignation letter.

One American employee had this to say about Roger, "he reached his integrity threshold for the Airbus A300 and Flight 587 issues and will not stand behind the program nor under those in charge anymore."

Another said, "He is a very well respected man, of unquestioned integrity."

Here is some of Roger’s resignation letter:

"I believe there is a God in Heaven. I believe in Believe absolute truth, not a fictional notion of relativity. I believe morals are based on beliefs, and beliefs are based on absolutes. I believe in right and wrong, not some abstract form of diversity. I believe a man should keep his word, stand for what is right, and stand against that which is wrong. I believe ethics should be immune from compromise. I believe in order and purpose, not chance, luck or coincidence. I believe Honor stands the test of time. I believe in the sacred trust between friends. I believe that one does not betray a friend, no matter the cost. I believe orphans need a home, and children need a father. I believe in love of my wife and smiles from my children. Though I am a simple man, this is what I believe. Based on recent events and what I profess to believe, I am formally resigning as Fleet Standards manager A300."

It certainly seems to me that Roger Purdy, the ultimate insider, has indicated by his resignation and by his letter that there is something rotten with the A300-600 program. We can’t see it, but we can see how it affected Purdy and that tells us what we want to know.

A spokesperson for Airbus Industries stated, in response to David Rose’s Vanity Fair article, "Safety is the highest priority of all in the aviation community and the NTSB and FAA (and Airbus) have repeatedly stated that if they found any reason to alter operations of the A300-600 they would do so. And they have not."

That statement sounds disingenuous to my ears, and it should to yours.

I believe that there is a cover-up on the part of the NTSB, the FAA, American Airlines and Airbus Industries, not because flight 587 was brought down by a terrorist. I believe that the cover-up is designed to protect a fragile aircraft industry. Should the public understand that an entire class of aircraft is somehow flawed, the already slow airline industry could easily come to a halt.

Are the agencies involved venal for their perceived actions? Not at all. They work for the airlines and for the government, not for the people.They are simply doing what they have been ordered to do by the people who pay their salary and provide their jobs.

Marion Blakey, the head of the NTSB has done such a wonderful job with flight 587 that she will soon become the head of the FAA. That is the way it works.

What happened to flight 587? We will probably never know the truth. We will only know what the NTSB and the FAA tell us.

They will probably tell us that Sten Molin, who was flying the plane, "flew the tail off," and that all of the other A300-600’s are safe to fly.

We will believe that, until a tail falls off another A300. Hopefully, that will not be over Rockaway.

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