2005-03-18 / Community

Part II: What Really Happened To AA 587?

This is the second and final installment in the final report on the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 into Belle Harbor on November 12, 2001. The report comes from Vic Trombettas, the editor of www.us read.com, a website that reported extensively on the crash.

By Vic Trombettas

What really happened on board AA 587?

This central question is really what it’s all about.  U.S.Read followed the investigation closely for three years because we never saw the NTSB addressing the central issues. In our previously released preliminary report , we highlighted the findings that led us to conclude that (a) there was a fire or explosion on board at least several seconds before the tail separated (this is suggested by physical evidence––the flight recorders evidence––and eyewitness statements), (b) the crew lost control of the aircraft while the tail was still attached, and (c) the tail did not detach until just after the time of the large flash and smoke/mist trail seen on the tollbooth video.  In other words, the tail separation was a consequence of the crash sequence and not the initiating event, and the aircraft would have likely crashed even if the tail remained attached.

Finding all the debris

The NTSB’s Robert Benzon stated at the meeting that “pertinent portions” of Jamaica Bay were searched with sonar scan equipment and that no debris was found on the Bay floor.  This is misleading and unbelievable in two respects.  The NTSB did not identify the area covered by these scans.  Secondly, the NYPD (the agency which performed the sonar scans) told U.S. Read that they did not scan a large area nor was their scan focused for “debris.” Rather, it was focused on finding the bodies of victims. The NYPD acknowledged that their sonar scan effort may have missed aircraft debris.

The NTSB made no mention of the numerous and varied land-based debris found away from the crash site, as extensively documented and described previously by U.S.Read . Much of this debris shows that the fuselage was compromised while the aircraft was flying.

“Several” Eyewitnesses?

In regards to the eyewitnesses, the NTSB concluded: “The witnesses who reported observing the airplane on fire were most likely observing a fire from the initial release of fuel or the effects of engine compressor surges.” Mr. Benzon added that there were “several” witnesses who reported the plane on fire. 

“Several” does not accurately represent the number of eyewitnesses who saw the aircraft on fire. There were over 70 witnesses who saw the aircraft on fire while it was level –– before it had begun its nosedive. There were at least 27 witnesses who saw the aircraft explode or on fire before the tail separated . The NTSB conveniently ignored the most disturbing aspect of the eyewitness accounts. Not only did witnesses describe the aircraft on fire before the engines separated, but many saw the aircraft on fire long before the tail separated. 

The Tollbooth Videos

As we have previously reported , the NTSB showed no interest in acquiring the original tollbooth videos from the FBI––videos which show AA 587 in flight during the most critical moments.  Just months before the close of the investigation, one of the parties to the investigation pushed the issue with the FBI and the FBI finally released the original videos. They ended up  at the NTSB in late May of 2004––two and half years after the crash.

On February 25th, 2005, the NTSB responded to our request for a digital uncompressed copy of the original footage. We are currently working out the details as to how a copy will be made for us. The NTSB has offered to send us a broadcast-quality Betacam SP video tape––a first generation copy (not digital, but the best alternative). Based on the NTSB’s latest official report on the tollbooth videos, there is a notable quality improvement in the original videos along with additional footage and even an additional camera view (lane 13 of the toll plaza) of AA 587 in flight. We are very much looking forward to examining the videos. The NTSB, in their latest tollbooth video report , provided snapshots from the original video and from the copy they received from the FBI in November 2001 which highlight the quality difference between the two versions (see Figure 2).

The latest NTSB report failed to identify what techniques were employed in an effort to analyze the original videos, all they say is that there is nothing new.  

U.S.Read has learned that analysts at the U.S. Government’s Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) have, in the recent past, been able to improve images from poor quality videos  (an ability that exceeds even those at the FBI). But this is yet another area the NTSB has failed to to explore.

Other critical issues mostly ignored

The NTSB’s final report provided no indications that other significant issues were thoroughly investigated. An NTSB sound spectrum analysis of the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) revealed dramatic energy level increases during the time of the Pilot’s aggressive control inputs. The sound spectrum study, along with the Air Traffic Control (ATC) tapes––which contained the Pilot’s “try escape” transmission that is missing from the CVR––provide convincing evidence that the crew was battling something far more severe than a wake encounter. Reliable electrical systems on board were being disrupted several seconds before the tail departed. To the dismay of many, not only has the NTSB failed to properly analyze the CVR, but they have gone so far as to say that the Pilot’s “try escape” transmission didn’t even originate from AA 587.

The NTSB also provided no explanation for the failure of AA 587’s Flight Data Recorder (FDR) 13 seconds before impact. 


In all likelihood, the truth of AA 587 will never be fully discovered. The same apathy the NTSB showed in their analysis of the tollbooth videos was seen throughout their investigation––in areas that might have led them down a different path. They missed or evaded the clues that pointed to the initiating event (most likely a fire/explosion). 

The only hope that may remain is if enough family members petition Congress for an independent reinvestigation of AA 587. 

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