2005-10-21 / Community

USRead’s Final Report On AA 587 Crash, Part II

By Victor Trombettas


Victor Trombettas, the editor for the Website USRead.com, has been following the American Airlines Flight 587 crash into Belle Harbor from the beginning and has spent thousands of hours of his own time and lots of his own money on the investigation. The following is his Final Report on the accident. The Wave publishes this report a month before the fourth anniversary of the crash as a public service and to point to the fact that many, especially those in Rockaway who witnessed the tragedy, still believe that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report of December, 2004, was a cover-up, especially in light of the upset events, such as the loss of rudders and unwanted control problems faced by some of the Airbus A300 and A310 series aircraft in the intervening years. The first part of this report ran in last week’s paper. This is the final portion of the report.

Presenting Misinformation

How far did the NTSB go to distort the significance of the AA 903 event? –– they produced their own misleading slide presentation to show how the two flights weren ’t connected when in fact they were very similar. What is most striking about that presentation is the omission of two very significant similarities between the two flights:  (a) repeated rudder reversals leading to (b) higher-than-ultimate loads being placed on the vertical stabilizer.   These are the two most important issues related to both flights –– and it was these that John Clarke omitted from his slide. Mr. Clarke is either incapable of connecting the dots or he was willingly evading the facts to help Airbus escape blame. Either way, this is an egregious failure on the part of both Mr. Clarke and his employer, the NTSB.

Instead, the presentation had “Pilot training” as the number one issue, and as the only similarity between the two flights. There is no doubt that Pilot training was an issue in both cases –– both Pilots had never received training about the dangers of rudder reversals.  But there is also no doubt that Airbus (a) never told the NTSB and FAA that AA 903’s tail experienced loads beyond the ultimate load, that (b) the rudder reversals contributed to the very high loads, and that (c) the RTLU failed several times during the AA 903 event, which led to a direct increase in the loads experienced by AA 903’s tail.

Had Airbus told the NTSB in 1997 about all of these facts, when Airbus knew them, the NTSB would have issued its warnings to the aviation community about rudder reversals, about the peculiar characteristics and sensitivities of the A300-600’s raudder system, and about the failure modes of the RTLU. Had the NTSB done so in 1997, AA 587’s Pilot, Sten Molin, would have known not to reverse the rudder long before November 12, 2001.

The NTSB was able to look at these same facts, these obvious connections between the two flights, and state that

nothing from AA 903 could have prevented AA 587.  This NTSB distortion and whitewash of the AA 903 affair solidifies the conclusion that the NTSB had lost credibility in the AA 587 investigation. If they were incapable of connecting the obvious dots, they couldn’t be expected to identify the actual, elusive, initiating event on board AA 587.

Perhaps one clue as to why the NTSB reached this illogical conclusion about the AA 903 connection is found in Mr. Loeb’s statement to USA Today: “People [in the NTSB] are kicking themselves.” Perhaps the NTSB was encouraged to downplay the significance of AA 903 in an effort to veil the significance of their own failures in the AA 903 investigation. Why else would Mr. Loeb say “kicking themselves”?

The NTSB whitewash was not only evident in that presentation, but in the very words of the NTSB Board Members: Board Member Rosenker said he was “comfortable” that there was no relation between AA 587 and AA 903.  Board Member Carmody: “we need to lay this thing (the AA 903 connection) to rest.” She also described her feelings about the Airbus’ 1997 cover-up as “[I] am less than satisfied in a less than perfect situation.” Director John Clarke focused solely on AA903’s  “vertical” loads (which were higher than AA 587’s) and failed to highlight the extremely high lateral loads AA 903experienced (as high as 0.7g)–– loads that were as much as two times more severe than those AA 587 experienced. Mr. Clarke referred to Airbus’ deliberate withholding of the tail loads data during the AA 903 investigation as ...”oblique”. What made Mr. Bernard Loeb “sick” was only an “oblique” offense for Mr. Clarke. NTSB Chairman Connors provided the closest statement approaching a rebuke when she said Airbus “did not meet moral obligations”. But that was the height of the criticism against Airbus––it quickly descended into a love fest again with Board Member Hersman, perhaps exposing the NTSB’s bias in favor of Airbus, revealing, “we don’t want to single out a single party.” Unfortunately, the NTSB’s final report did just that––it mostly singled out the Pilot.

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 never during that time did we see the NTSB addressing the central issues of the crash. 

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. 

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 and several seconds before the engines departed. Yet, the NTSB’s John Clarke somehow was able to say that everything was “normal” on the CVR and FDR.

Conclusion

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). 

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