2005-03-25 / Community

Airbus Upset: Obvious Differences, Frightening Similarities

A Wave News Analysis
By Howard Schwach

The rudder on the tailfin of an Airbus 310 fell off over the Caribbean Sea earlier this month. Experts say that the flight upset might lead to a reopening of the American Airlines Flight 587 investigation.The rudder on the tailfin of an Airbus 310 fell off over the Caribbean Sea earlier this month. Experts say that the flight upset might lead to a reopening of the American Airlines Flight 587 investigation.

  • On November 12, 2001 American Airlines Flight 587, an Airbus A300-600, crashed into the corner of Beach 131 Street and Newport Avenue in Belle Harbor killing all 260 aboard the aircraft and five Rockaway residents on the ground. It was the second worst airline disaster in United States history.
  • In the wake of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center only two months previous, government officials quickly announced that the crash was a tragic accident and not a result of a terrorist action.

    On March 6, 2005, Air Transat Flight 961, an Airbus A310 aircraft, the same series as the A300, was flying from Cuba to Canada when the rudder separated from the tail fin, causing the plane to return to Cuba.

    The Wave reported on that upset in its March 18 edition. Very few other American news outlets picked up the Canadian story.

    Now, however, it has become big news. An NBC Channel 4 news report on Tuesday night said that Airbus sent a memo to all airlines that fly the A300 series aircraft, warning them to check the rudders of those planes carefully before they fly again.

    In that report, a spokesperson for the Allied Pilot’s Association, the pilot’s union, said that there were alarming similarities between Flight 961 and the crash of AA 587.

    “There should be no reason for the either the tail or the rudder to come off in flight,” the pilot’s spokesperson said.

    Greg Overmann, a spokesperson for the Allied Pilots told The Wave that his organization favors an Airworthiness Directive that would mandate the airlines in the United States that fly the Airbus A300 series to inspect all of the tails and rudders.

    “There are differences between AA 587 and flight 961,” he said, pointing to the fact that AA 587 was climbing out while flight 961 was in level flight without the turbulence faced by AA 587.

    “The similarities between the two have our attention,” he added.

    Will the upset with Flight 961 cause American authorities such as the NTSB and the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) to take another look at American Airlines Flight 587? The answer to that question is not at all clear.

    “We don’t know if it [flight 961] has any relevancy until we find out what happened in the Air Transat case,” Ted Lopatkiewicz, a spokesperson for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) told The Wave on Wednesday morning.

    “There are some obvious differences between the two cases; the fact that the rudder came off (for reasons unknown – this was in a level cruise flight) and the rudder remained attached to the fin on 587 until the fin came off, for one.”

    “No one wants to make assumptions,” the NTSB spokesman added. “We’ll see how the Canadian investigation turns out.”

    While the rudder was not recovered, the fin from flight 961 was removed from the plane and is being examined at the Airbus facility in Germany, according to Lopatkiewicz, the same facility that performed the testing of the rudder from AA 587.

    The French version of our NTSB has reportedly issued a directive to all airlines flying the A300 series saying that all of the planes should undergo a visual inspection to see if there is a problem with the rudder or the tail.

    In addition, Airbus issued a service bulletin to all airlines flying their A300 series to do the same.

    In the United States, only American Airlines flies the A300 series on passenger routes.

    FedEx and other cargo airlines use them as well.

    Arlene Murray, a spokesperson for the FAA said that her organization is reviewing the incident and is “working on a comparable action” to the French directive.

    Nearly three years after the crash, and after an extensive investigation, the NTSB announced that the crash came as a result of the tail of the plane being ripped off by the “unnecessary and overly-aggressive” use of the rudder by the first officer when he hit wake turbulence for a JAL heavy aircraft that took off just prior to the A300.

    There are many in Rockaway who believe that the NTSB report is a cover-up for something larger.

    There are those, particularly those who saw the plane in the air before it crashed, who believe that there was a massive upset on the plane prior to the tail coming off over Jamaica Bay.

    Myriad eyewitnesses report fire, explosion and smoke on the fuselage of the plane prior to the crash.

    The NTSB discounted all of those reports with one paragraph of its final report.

    There are those who believe the September, 2004 report in Canada’s National Post that said captured terrorists told investigators that a shoe bomber named Abderraouf Jdey (also known as Farouk the Tunisian) brought down AA 587 in Rockaway.

    The NTSB completely ignored that report. It is mentioned nowhere in its final report and NTSB officials continue to refuse to comment on the report. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) continues to look for Jdey, and his wanted poster can be seen in every post office in the nation.

    Jdey reportedly disappeared from view in 2001, shortly before the AA 587 crash.

    The NTSB also dismissed a number of other similar upsets with A300 series aircraft over the past dozen years by saying that they had very little relevance to AA 587.

    It may be harder to dismiss the latest flight upset, however.

    “Obviously, we can always revisit any investigation if new information is subsequently learned,” Lopatkiewicz said, adding that nothing will happen prior to the Canadian Safety Board report on the upset.

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