2004-12-10 / Community

NTSB Blows Off AA 587 Crash Witnesses With Nearly A Nod

By Howard Schwach


The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released its final report on the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 into Belle Harbor in late 2001, more than three years after the accident killed all 260 passengers and crew on the plane and five Rockaway residents on the ground.

Buried in that 198-page report is a section on the eyewitnesses both to what was happening to the A300 airliner while it was still in the air and to the crash itself.

All in all, there were several pilots who witnessed the crash as well as 354 witnesses, “who had provided sufficient detail to document.”

Of those 354 witnesses, most of whom were local residents, 138 provided written accounts to the NTSB, 66 provided interviews to NTSB investigators, 141 spoke to the Federal Bureau of investigation (FBI) while 224 gave their statements to either the Port Authority or the New York City Police detectives working the case.

Despite the large number of eyewitnesses, however, many of whom reported fire and smoke on the fuselage, the NTSB deemed their evidence “unreliable” and gave them little credibility in the final report. In fact, their testimony was given two lines in the “Findings” section.

That was despite the fact that more than half of those who gave testimony said that the aircraft was on fire at some time during the period that they observed it in the air. Most said that the fire was on the body of the plane.

Eighty-two witnesses said that they observed smoke on the fuselage. Eighty percent of those who made reports said that they saw the plane descending and 225 (64 percent) say they saw pieces falling off the plane prior to the crash.

The “conclusions” section of the report, however, gives only two lines to the eyewitness testimony,

“The witnesses who reported observing the airplane on fire were most likely observing fire from the initial release of fuel or the effects of engine compressor surges,” the report says.

If fire and explosion did not cause the crash, what did?

According to the NTSB report, “The probable cause of this accident was the in-flight separation of the vertical stabilizer as a result of the loads beyond ultimate design that were created by the first officer’s unnecessary and excessive rudder pedal inputs. Contributing to these rudder pedal inputs were characteristics of the A300-600 rudder system design and elements of the American Airlines Advanced Aircraft Maneuvering Program.”

“There was no evidence that we had to show that there was any fire or explosion on the plane prior to the crash,” a spokesperson for the NTSB said earlier. Hundreds of eyewitnesses would probably disagree.

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