NEW YORK (AP) The rudder of American Airlines Flight 587 began shifting erratically and the airliner careened sideways before taking a sudden nosedive seconds after it was jolted by turbulence from another jumbo jet, according to flight data.
With their inquiry focused on why the tail fin and rudder sheared off cleanly before the crash, investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board said yesterday they are looking closely at the final eight seconds of the doomed jet”s flight data recorder.
After the Airbus A300 experienced the second of two turbulent “wake encounters,” the rudder stopped sending usable information to the flight data recorder, the jetliner shook violently and then went into its steep dive. “We have eight seconds we”re going to be looking at in extreme detail,” said Tom Haueter, the NTSB”s deputy director of aviation safety. Monday”s crash killed all 260 people aboard the jet bound for the Dominican Republic and five more people on the ground in Queens.
Experts are looking closely at several factors that could have contributed to the tail failure, including the tail”s composite structure, turbulence from a Japan Airlines jumbo jet and the pilots” reactions. The JAL 747 left from the same runway at Kennedy Airport less than two minutes earlier.
Marion Blakey, the NTSB chairwoman, stressed at an evening news conference that wake turbulence is commonly experienced by pilots.
“We are looking at the question, therefore, of what other kinds of factors may have contributed,” she said. Investigators said both of Flight 587″s pilots had completed a course in how to handle wake turbulence.
Within eight seconds of the second wake encounter, Flight 587 began banking hard with its left wing down before heading into a nosedive. The flight data recorder cut off 20 seconds before the voice data recorder. Investigators said they hope to gain more information from the voice recorder on the flight”s last seconds.
NTSB investigator George Black Jr. said investigators were almost certain the tail broke off before the jetliner”s twin engines did. While cautioning that investigators are not ready to rule out sabotage, he said the tail “doesn”t appear to have been sabotaged in any way.”
Black also said the pilots of Flight 587 were probably unaware its tail fin had broken off as they struggled to control the plane. “They don”t have a rearview mirror,” he told The Associated Press. “They have no idea they”ve lost a tail.”
In Washington, the Federal Aviation Administration was preparing to order inspections of Airbus A300s, focusing on the tail. The order would cover 90 of the European-built planes used by three U.S. companies American, FedEx and United Parcel Service. American has already agreed to do voluntary inspections of its 34 remaining A300s.