2006-04-21 / Front Page

Calls To Reopen AA 587 Probe

Pols, Pilots, Family Members Prod NTSB
By Howard Schwach


A raging fire burns at Beach 131 Street and Newport Avenue in Belle Harbor on November 12, 2001 just minutes after American Airlines Flight 587, an Airbus A300 crashed into the intersection. All 260 passengers and crew on the plane were killed as well as five Rockaway residents on the ground. Now, politicians, aircraft experts and locals want the NTSB to reopen the investigation, which found that first officer Sten Molin tore the tail from the plane by misusing the rudder controls.A raging fire burns at Beach 131 Street and Newport Avenue in Belle Harbor on November 12, 2001 just minutes after American Airlines Flight 587, an Airbus A300 crashed into the intersection. All 260 passengers and crew on the plane were killed as well as five Rockaway residents on the ground. Now, politicians, aircraft experts and locals want the NTSB to reopen the investigation, which found that first officer Sten Molin tore the tail from the plane by misusing the rudder controls.

Recent mishaps involving Airbus A-300 series aircraft have prompted a diverse group of politicians, pilot groups and family members of the victims to ask for a reopening of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation into the cause of the crash.

In late 2004, the NTSB ruled that Sten Molin, the first officer who was flying the departure of American Airlines Flight 587, an Airbus A300-600 on November 12, 2001, was responsible for the tail structure departing the plane shortly after takeoff, forcing it to crash into Belle Harbor. The investigation concluded that Molin moved the rudder back and forth "unnecessarily and aggressively" building pressure on the tail until it fell off.

Several American Airlines pilots say that it isn't necessarily so.

"We're just trying to renew the interest and concerns about these particular model aircraft," Captain Bob Tanbyrni, a member of the Allied Pilots Association, the union that represents the airline's pilots told Warren Woodberry of the Daily News. "We are requesting the [NTSB} reopen its investigation based on the information that has come in as of late."

Skepticism in the airline community and among locals has grown due to a number of what the NTSB calls "upsets" involving A300 series aircraft.

In March of last year, pilots of an Air Transat (Canada) A320, which has the same basic composite tail as the A300, had to return to a Cuban Airport when the rudder came apart and fell from the aircraft. Then, more recently, mechanics for FedEx found that the tails of some of their A300's began to deteriorate when they came into contact with hydraulic fluid.

Congressman Anthony Weiner, who represents the west end of Rockaway in the House of Representatives, has long been an activist in the AA 587 issue. The Congressman has joined other politicians and experts in calling for the investigation to be reopened.

"[The Air Transat and FedEx] incidents suggest that a structural flaw may have contributed to the crash of Flight 587, and warrant further examination as to why this accident occurred," Weiner said in a recent letter to Mark Rosenker, the acting chair of the NTSB.

"The NTSB prides itself on the thoroughness of its investigations. "This case can't be considered closed if these new clues aren't investigated fully."

"In light of recommendations issued by [the NTSB] that call into question the structural integrity of Airbus A300 series rudders, I request that you reopen the American Airlines Flight 587 investigation," Weiner added.

City Councilman Joseph Addabbo, who sits on the council's Public Safety Committee, told The Wave, "{The NTSB} took the easy way out, they blamed pilot error for the crash. Now we are finding out that there are structural problems with that series of aircraft and they should reopen the investigation to find out what really happened."

Todd Wissing, a former A300 pilot who is pushing for a new investigation, said, "After the Air Transat incident, if you didn't reopen the investigation of Flight 587, it would fly in the face of logic."

Wissing and other pilots say that no plane should fall apart "because somebody pushes a pedal too hard."

Prior to the NTSB docket investigation, Greg Overmann, a spokesperson for the Allied Pilots Association told The Wave, "Airbus building an aircraft where the tail falls off because a pedal is pushed too hard is like an auto maker that builds a car where the tires fall off if the driver hits the brakes too hard."

Hector Algarroba, who lost both his mother and his father in the crash of AA 587 agrees with the experts.

"All of the family members must come forward and join hands in getting the investigation reopened," Algarroba told The Wave. "They have to join with our elected politicians to find the real reason for the crash."

Ted Lopatkiewicz, a spokesperson for the NTSB said that the Air Transat incident had little to do with the crash of American Airlines Flight 587.

While only the rudder separated from the Air Transat plane, bringing the composite material into question, the entire tail was ripped from the lugs that held it to the aircraft in the American Airlines crash.

The NTSB maintains that the first officer's movement of the rudder pedals placed stress on the tail, which broke from the plane's fuselage at the point where the two were connected by a series of "lugs," that resemble hinges. When the tail broke off, the rudder was still attached to it. The first officer's actions put the plane in a "sideslip," which caused the extra load, which caused the lugs to break away and the tail to fall off.

The area where the tail and the lugs are connected, however, are made of the same composite material that broke down on the FedEx planes. Pictures taken after the crash clearly show that the lugs were still connected to the fuselage and had broken away from the composite tail.

The NTSB said that it would take the letter from the pilots into consideration, however.

"We have received the letter [from the pilots association]," he told reporters. "It has been sent to our aviation people and I don't know how they are going to respond to it." He said that the NTSB would have no comment on the petition until it was reviewed.

Robert Spragg, a lawyer for Kreindler and Kreindler, the firm that leads the consortium of lawyers handling the cases arising from the crash, told The Wave on Tuesday that nine family members of those who were killed on the plane and three on the ground continue to hold out, refusing to sign agreements with Airbus and American Airline in the hopes that the discovery process will be reopened and they will find out what really happened to cause the crash.

That discovery process, which was halted in May of 2003 to allow settlement offers to be made, would force both Airbus and American Airlines to produce documents related to the crash. It was scheduled to begin anew on April 15, but was postponed by Judge Robert Sweet until May 6 to give the two companies more time to convince family members to take settlement offers. Does Spragg think that the NTSB investigation will be reopened at this late date?

"The chances of that are slim and none," the aircraft attorney says.

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