2004-10-08 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

I have been saying since the first that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) would find a way to blame First Officer Sten Molin for the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 into Belle Harbor on November 12, 2001 – nearly three years ago.

The future and survival of the airlines industry as a whole and specifically that of American Airlines depends on that finding.

The final report on the crash, which was the second worst airline disaster in American history, with 260 killed on the plane and five more on the ground, is now due for October 26.

What the final report will say was summed up by an anonymous NTSB investigator in a story by Matthew Wald in the New York Times.

“There are 20,000 pilots and only one did this,” the unnamed source told Wald. “There are 700 of these airplanes and only one had this problem”

Blame the pilot. He’s dead, and can’t talk back.

Unfortunately, depending on how you define “this problem,” the unnamed investigator lied.

Certainly, no Airbus A300-600 with the exception of AA 587 crashed when its tail fell off. If that is what the unnamed investigator meant by “this problem,” then he is right.

If, however, he means that no A300-600 had control problems because of the plane’s rudder, then he is lying and he knows it. There have been more control problems involving the rudder on A300-600 aircraft than you can count on two hands.

Some have been minor. Some have been near-critical. A number of the incidents resulted in injuries and planes returning to their departure airports. They are all on record, and certainly both Airbus and the NTSB know about them.

There can be only a few broad explanations for why AA 587 crashed:

1. The pilot, involved in a wake turbulence event, over-controlled the rudder controls, putting great stress on the tail and ripping it off the aircraft. This is the coming NTSB finding. To me, this seems a little like building a car that has the wheels come off when the steering wheel is turned too far to the left. Why would you build a car that would allow the wheels to come off? Why would you build a plane that allows the tail to come off under stress – even great stress? In the same vein, the NTSB has said that the plane’s engines were designed to pop off under stress. Pilots tell me that this is not true. Why would you want the engines to pop off a plane while it is still flying? The NTSB’s explanation makes no sense.

2.The plane experienced an upset such as an electrical failure, a fire, a fuel explosion, while it was taking off. That upset caused the control surfaces of the plane to fail, putting excessive load on the tail, causing it to fall off. This explanation would explain the eyewitness accounts that say there was fire, smoke and explosion on the fuselage prior to the tail coming off. It would also account for the debris trail from Jamaica Bay and Beach 108 Street, down Beach Channel Drive to the crash site at Beach 131 Street and Newport Avenue. The NTSB says, however, that there is no evidence of a fire or of explosion on the plane prior to the crash.

3. A shoe bomber on the plane set off a bomb that caused the smoke and fire seen by eyewitnesses and blew off both the tail and the engines. Don’t laugh. The FBI is looking for a man who was later named by another captured terrorist leader as the one who took down American Airlines Flight 587. The report, made by a highly-respected Canadian newspaper from a secret document written by that nation’s security personnel, was largely ignored by the American media.

4. The tail section of A300-600 aircraft was flawed from the beginning. A document discussed by Der Speigel, a German newsmagazine, says that Airbus Industries may have cooked the test results to show that the rudder could withstand greater stresses than it could, in reality, sustain. This theory, also largely ignored by the American media, posits that the tail fell off all by itself under the wake turbulence stresses it could not withstand.

The NTSB has not only failed to address many of the questions asked by recent reports and by the evidence, it has flatly ignored them. They do not exist.

Why, you might ask, would a highly-respected agency such as the NTSB want to cover up the true reasons for the second-deadliest aircraft accident in our history?

There are a number of reasons.

Let’s suppose that we take reason number two as the actual cause. The A300-600 had some sort of upset problem that caused its tail to fall off. That would take all of the A300-600’s off line until there was a “fix” of the problem acceptable to the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) and its European counterparts. The A300-600 is the financial backbone of American Airline’s Latin American and South American routes, its most profitable. Take those planes off line for a few months and American goes broke. By the way, American is the only airline flying the A300 series with passengers, although a number of cargo airlines, including Federal Express, use the aircraft.

Let’s suppose that the NTSB says that a shoe bomber brought down the plane. We then have a terrorist act bringing down four planes in disastrous circumstances on 9/11/2001. Then, we have another terrorist act bringing down AA 587 on 11/12/2001. Later, we have the passengers on an airliner bringing down shoe bomber Richard Reade while he was attempting to light off his sneakers.

How many people would fly if they knew that there were a large number of shoe bombers out there, ready to bring down aircraft and that one had succeeded? Very few people would fly, and the airline industry, trying to reinstate some confidence after 9/11, would dry up and blow away. The entire industry would likely go belly-up very quickly.

Both the NTSB and the FAA have as their major goal the protection and continuance of the aircraft industry. To my mind, that NTSB goal seems to take precedence even over the truth.

Take the easy way out.

Blame any crash on that one pilot, that one plane.

Save the industry at any cost, even the reputation of a young man who died too young trying to keep a plane from wiping out an entire neighborhood. Leak to the press, respected writers such as Matthew Wald of the New York Times and Sylvia Adcock of Newsday, who live off their contacts with the NTSB, the FAA and airline PR flacks, who don’t want to rock the boat and lose their sources.

There are 20,000 pilots and only this one flew the tail off the plane. There are 700 planes and only one had “this problem.” That is the way the NTSB will look at the reason for the crash.

It is time for an independent investigation to find out what really happened to AA 587,

The memory of Sten Molin deserves that investigation, as do the memories of the other 264 people who died on Belle Harbor streets that day.

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