May 4, 2002 - Probe Into New York Air Crash Accelerates At NASA

HAMPTON, Virginia (USA) - The U.S.  government has accelerated its investigation of why the tail fin of an American Airlines Airbus fell off before the plane crashed last year in New York, and may recommend new rules for inspecting that component, investigators said on Friday.

NASA engineers assisting crash investigators have begun cutting away sections of the 27-foot tail at their Langley Research Center in southeastern Virginia to analyze its composite make-up for clues as to the cause of the second-deadliest air disaster in U.S.  history.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators want to determine the sequence of events and find out whether the Airbus A300-600 encountered forces too great for it to withstand, or whether there was a design flaw or a defect in the tail fin's carbon-reinforced construction.

"The tail fin separated either because it was subjected to aerodynamic loads that exceeded its design limitations or because it did not perform up to its design strength," safety board Chairwoman Marion Blakey told reporters at a news conference at the NASA facility.

American Flight 587 from New York to the Dominican Republic crashed shortly after takeoff on Nov.  12 from John F.  Kennedy International Airport, killing all 260 people on the plane and five on the ground.  The tail fin and rudder both fell into the waters of Jamaica Bay while the rest of the aircraft broke up over a residential neighborhood in Queens.

Blakey said the investigation was moving forward on several new fronts, including a detailed study at NASA of turbulence from a bigger jet that took off just ahead of the doomed Airbus plane.  Experts also plan to study the affects of the plane's violent side motions on the pilots and whether that restricted their ability to work the controls.

Blakey said investigators were making good progress and looking at other potential safety recommendations that may come out of the probe.  For instance, John Clark, senior NTSB investigator, said the safety board would examine whether five-year interval between required visual tail inspections on A300-600s was adequate.

Airbus spokesman Clay McConnell said the European aircraft maker welcomed the detailed investigation and said it was cooperating with investigators.  "It is hugely important that the NTSB get this right," McConnell said.

Rudder Failure Theories

Some relevant rudder Airworthiness Directives


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