An American Airlines pilot is likely to be
blamed by government investigators for causing the
crash of Flight 587, which plunged into a Queens
neighborhood on Nov. 12, 2001, killing all on board
and five people on the ground, according to sources
familiar with the probe, but aircraft design is also
likely to be cited as a contributing factor.
The National Transportation Safety Board
will today hear the findings of its staff
investigators and may vote as early as today on a
final determination of the probable cause of the
accident. It is also expected to discuss whether
there was adequate communication about safety issues
related to the aircraft. The crash attracted global
attention because it occurred two months after
terrorists attacked New York and the Pentagon.
The Airbus A300-600, heading for the
Dominican Republic, crashed shortly
killing 260 aboard and five people
the ground in Queens.
The Airbus A300-600, heading for the
Dominican Republic, encountered wake turbulence
moments after takeoff from John F. Kennedy
International Airport and crashed seconds later into
the Rockaway Beach neighborhood of Queens, killing
260 aboard and five people on the ground.
Investigators determined that the tail fell off the
plane shortly before it went down.
American has waged an aggressive campaign
in recent weeks to convince the NTSB board, its
staff and the agency's investigative staff that the
plane's manufacturer hid damning evidence of
previous incidents involving the rudder of the same
aircraft model. American's last-minute lobbying has
succeeded in raising fresh doubts among some board
members about whether American, Airbus SAS and the
board communicated effectively about safe operation
of the A300-600's rudder, according to sources
familiar with the investigation who spoke on
condition of anonymity because the findings were not
These sources believe the NTSB staff will
still point to the pilot of Flight 587 and his
back-and-forth pressure on the rudder foot pedals as
the reason the tail came off and the plane crashed.
The sources also said the sensitivity of the
aircraft's rudder pedals is also likely to be cited
as a contributing factor in the crash.
The board's decision could be used in
lawsuits filed by relatives of those who died in the
crash. American said 70 percent of the suits have
"It's easy to focus on what started the
sequence of events" that led to the crash of Flight
587, said American spokesman Bruce Hicks. "But it
ignores the root cause, which is system safety. . .
. Airbus never told safety investigators about
As part of its evidence, American pointed
to internal Airbus memos written after a nonfatal
accident involving another American plane, also an
Airbus A300-600. The memos from June 1997 show
urgent concern among Airbus managers that the
aircraft's rudder had sustained high loads, or
stresses, after American Airlines Flight 903 to
Miami stalled during a flight and the pilot used the
rudder to try to recover. Internally, Airbus
recommended that the plane be inspected "as soon as
possible," but American claims that it was never
informed of the memos until after Flight 587
Airbus denied that it had been less than
forthcoming about problems with its rudder. The
European manufacturer provided several documents to
American, including one signed four years before the
crash by Airbus and rival manufacturers Boeing Co.,
McDonnell Douglas and the Federal Aviation
Administration that jointly raised concerns about
the way American trained pilots to use the rudder.
The document indicated American taught its pilots to
be aggressive in their use of the rudder, which
could result in a "rapid loss of controlled flight."
The letter, dated Aug. 20, 1997, said, "The
excessive emphasis on the superior effectiveness of
the rudder for roll control . . . is a concern."
Airbus said its letter clearly warns
American to correct its training, which the carrier
said it did in updated training videos distributed
to pilots. "I would agree that our communication to
American and others, had it been taken to heart,
might have indeed avoided this accident," said Clay
McConnell, an Airbus spokesman. "I see no evidence
that American pilots were untrained from their
Airbus said that the pilot's aggressive
back-and-forth use of the rudder right after Flight
587 encountered wake turbulence led the tail of the
aircraft to come off.
During the crash investigation, the NTSB
issued a recommendation for Airbus to fix another
component of its rudder on the A300-600 fleet,
raising concerns among pilots about rudder
The crash, pilots say, raised alarms
because it involved a basic aircraft part that
pilots do not use very much. The rudder, the flap on
the vertical tail, moves right and left to help
pilots land in a crosswind. It is also used to
maneuver the airplane on the ground while taxiing.
"I don't think most pilots knew as much
about rudder movement and the effects on the
airplane even at low speeds," said Terry McVenes,
executive air safety vice chairman at the Air Line
Pilots Association, which represents pilots at
several major carriers but not those at American.
American said it has seen a
new opportunity to convince the board of its view
because four of the five NTSB members have joined
since the crash.