Feds eye engines in air crash
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Investigators suspect a catastrophic engine event as the likely cause of an airline crash Monday in New York that likley claimed the lives of everyone on board, a Transportation Department official told CNN.
Investigators have not definitively ruled out terrorism in the crash American Airlines flight 587, but think some sort of engine failure caused the disaster, the official said.
Officials said the flight, which crashed in Rockaway, a Queens neighborhood, carried 260 people - 246 ticketed passengers, nine crewmembers and five unticketed infants sitting on their parents' lap. At least six to eight people in Rockaway also have been reported missing immediately following the crash, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said.
By late Monday, searchers had recovered 265 "relatively intact bodies," police said.
The flight was an Airbus A300-600. The jet was propelled by General Electric engines that have been the subject of past National Transportation Safety Board recommendations. (More on Airbus)
Last December, the agency recommended that the Federal Aviation Administration require airlines with the same GE engines as those on flight 587 to review repairs made on cracked engine blades. That recommendation followed an incident in which an engine erupted and caught fire during maintenance on a U.S. Airways plane.
A year earlier, the NTSB recommended that airlines with Airbus A300s improve their engines' fire detection system. An engine on an American Airlines flight that caught fire on takeoff from Puerto Rico prompted that recommendation.
This June, the FAA issued an airworthiness directive, telling airlines to examine specific parts of the GE engine.
A GE spokesman told CNN the company complied with the directive, but could find nothing to change.
New York Gov. George Pataki said there were "inconclusive" reports the pilot dumped fuel into Jamaica Bay, an indication he may have known of a problem on board.
Officials said the Coast Guard had found no evidence of a fuel slick in the waters off John F. Kennedy Airport, which would indicate flight 587's pilot deliberately dumped fuel from the aircraft as it headed toward earth.
Just before the crash, the Airbus broke up in mid-air. A sizable portion of the vertical stabilizer from the tail section landed in Jamaica Bay, while most of the fuselage plunged into Rockaway. One engine landed at a gas station, while other engine pieces crushed a boat parked in the driveway of a home that caught fire.
Giuliani said the fuselage destroyed up to six houses and severely damaged another six.
Pataki said the main crash site suggested the plane dropped at a steep angle, if not vertically.
"It's clear that the plane did come down very much in a straight level, which was horrible for that particular site, but minimized what could have happened had the plane glided across the Rockaways," he said.
The cockpit voice recorder from American Airlines Flight 587 has been recovered and was flown to Washington for analysis, the National Transportation and Safety Board said.
Investigators are still searching for the flight data recorder that will give information about how the different systems, including the engines, were performing.
The plane was en route to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. American Airlines said the plane was carrying 251 passengers and nine crewmembers. (Timeline)
The plane had not been delayed by mechanical problems, said American Airlines Chairman Don Carty.
"It was delayed at the gate, as so many airplanes are since the (September) 11th, largely to ensure that the security arrangements were fulfilled," he said. "And they were."
Witnesses: Explosion and fireball
Moments after the plane took off, witnesses said they saw what appeared to be an explosion. Parts of the plane began breaking away and wreckage was found in at least four locations, Giuliani said.
"I was in my kitchen ...and I saw the plane hit the house behind my house," an eyewitness told CNN. "It was so low, I was ducking almost. Then (there were) huge fireballs, and I jumped out of the ... window of my house.
"It was like a bomb exploded." (Full story)
Monday's crash site in Rockaway was home to many New York city firefighters and police officers killed in the attack on the World Trade Center, which prompted an emotional response from the mayor. (Full story)
"Oh my God," said Giuliani, who had recently been in Rockaway to attend the funerals of 10 firefighters from the trade center tragedy.
"The consequences so far are catastrophic," Giuliani said. The fatalities, he said, likely would surpass the 230 killed in the July 1996 crash of TWA flight 800.
In Washington, President Bush said, "I too want to express my heartfelt sympathies for the citizens of New York, those on the airplane, those whose houses were damaged, and those who were hurt on the ground."
Earlier, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said there had been no unusual communications with the cockpit. Asked if there were any indications of terrorism, Fleischer said "We have not ruled anything in; we have not ruled anything out."
As part of the increased post-September 11 security environment, the Pentagon ordered additional combat air patrols over the United States and its coastlines after Flight 587 crashed.
There is "no indication" of what caused Flight 587 to crash, American Airlines chairman and CEO said Monday. Donald Carty said the crash came at a "difficult time" for the airline and the nation -- two months after four jets, including two American Airlines planes, were hijacked and crashed by terrorists.
Carty said the last maintenance "A-check" on the plane was performed Sunday. A heavier maintenance check was done October 3, and the jet last underwent a major overhaul in December 1999. Another overhaul was scheduled for July 2002.
All three New York-area airports -- Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark -- closed after the crash. They later reopened to accept incoming flights, and LaGuardia and Newark also began allowing departures.
All of New York's bridges and tunnels were closed after the crash, but they were later reopened to outbound traffic.
A senior FBI official said there had been no intelligence gathered and no threats made, "nothing to indicate this was an act of terrorism."
Armed F-15 Eagles were already airborne over New York at the time of the crash and fighters were flying Combat Air Patrol (CAP) over Washington, senior defense officials said. News of the crash sparked the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) to scramble jets already on "strip alert" at a number of other bases around the country. (Full story)
The United Nations went into a partial lockdown after the crash. The U.N. Security Council's president issued a statement expressing shock at the news of the crash and offering "heartfelt sympathies to the people of the United States and families of those who lost their lives." (Full story)
The Empire State Building was evacuated as a security precaution.
About 200 family members of passengers on the plane were waiting at the Las Americas International Airport in Santo Domingo, said Dominican customs official Evelyn Aredondo. "People are watching TV, waiting to hear something," she said. "They are very upset."
American Airlines set up a telephone number for family members to call for information. The number is 1-800-245-0999.
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