American Airlines Flight 587
An American Airlines Airbus A300-600 similar to the aircraft involved in the accident.
|Date||November 12, 2001|
|Summary||Tail structure failure due to pilot error while encountering wake turbulence|
|Site||Queens, New York City, United States|
|Injuries (non-fatal)||1 (ground)|
|Fatalities||265 (including 5 on the ground)|
|Aircraft type||Airbus A300B4-605R|
|Flight origin||John F. Kennedy Int'l Airport|
|Destination||Las Américas Int'l Airport
American Airlines Flight 587 was a regularly scheduled passenger flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City to Santo Domingo's Las Américas International Airport in the Dominican Republic. On November 12, 2001, the Airbus A300-600 airliner operating the flight crashed into the Belle Harbor neighborhood of Queens, a borough of New York City, shortly after takeoff. All 261 people on board the flight were killed, along with five people on the ground. It is the second-deadliest aviation incident involving an Airbus A300, after Iran Air Flight 655 and the second-deadliest aviation incident to occur on U.S. soil, after American Airlines Flight 191.
The accident took place two months and one day after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in Manhattan, initially spawning fears of another terrorist attack. However, terrorism was officially ruled out as the cause by the National Transportation Safety Board, which instead attributed the disaster to the first officer's overuse of rudder controls in response to wake turbulence or jet wash from a Japan Airlines Boeing 747-400 that took off five minutes before it.
Summary of the accident
On November 12, 2001 at about 9:16 EST, American Airlines Flight 587 N14053, an Airbus A300B4-605R delivered in 1988 with a seating configuration for 267 passengers (16 first-class seats and 251 economy-class seats) and powered by two General Electric CF6-80C2A5 engines, crashed into Belle Harbor, a New York City residential area, shortly after takeoff from John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York. Flight 587 was a regularly scheduled passenger flight to Las Américas International Airport, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, with 2 flight crew members, eight flight attendants, and 251 passengers aboard the plane. Ed States served as the captain, and Sten Molin served as the first officer.
The plane's vertical stabilizer and rudder separated in flight and fell into Jamaica Bay, about 1 mile north of the main wreckage site. The plane lost an engine due to G-forces, As the engine separated it flew through the air on its own. As it did so, it crackled and sputtered loudly as it burnt off the last of its fuel before landing in a gas station next to the gas pumps. The airplane rolled over belly up; as it did so the pilot gave the remaining engine full throttle which caused the plane to go 90 degrees vertical. The plane's other engine subsequently separated in flight and fell several blocks east of the main wreckage site. A few hundred feet off the ground, all power was cut and the plane went into a flat spin. It angled downwards as it did this, and eventually landed nose down into a house, exploding on impact. All 261 people aboard the plane and 5 people on the ground died, and the impact forces and a post-crash fire destroyed the plane. Flight 587 operated under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 121 on an instrument flight rules flight plan. Visual meteorological conditions (VMC) prevailed at the time of the accident.
The A300-600 took off immediately after a Japan Airlines Boeing 747-400 on the same runway. It flew into the larger jet's wake, an area of turbulent air. The first officer attempted to stabilize the aircraft with alternating aggressive rudder inputs. The strength of the air flowing against the moving rudder stressed the aircraft's vertical stabilizer, or tailfin, and eventually snapped it off entirely, causing the aircraft to lose control and crash. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that the enormous stress on the rudder was due to the first officer's "unnecessary and excessive" rudder inputs, and not the wake turbulence caused by the 747. The NTSB further stated "if the first officer had stopped making additional inputs, the aircraft would have stabilized". Contributing to these rudder pedal inputs were characteristics of the Airbus A300-600 sensitive rudder system design and elements of the American Airlines Advanced Aircraft Maneuvering Training Program.
The manner in which the vertical stabilizer separated concerned investigators. The vertical stabilizer is connected to the fuselage with six attaching points. Each point has two sets of attachment lugs, one made of composite material, another of aluminum, all connected by a titanium bolt; damage analysis showed that the bolts and aluminum lugs were intact, but not the composite lugs. This, coupled with two events earlier in the life of the aircraft, namely delamination in part of the vertical stabilizer prior to its delivery from the manufacturer and an encounter with heavy turbulence in 1994, caused investigators to examine the use of composites. The possibility that the composite materials might not be as strong as previously supposed was a cause of concern because they are used in other areas of the plane, including the engine mounting and the wings. Tests carried out on the vertical stabilizers from the accident aircraft, and from another similar aircraft, found that the strength of the composite material had not been compromised, and the NTSB concluded that the material had failed because it had been stressed beyond its design limit, despite ten previous recorded incidents where A300 tail fins had been stressed beyond their design limitation in which none resulted in the separation of the vertical stabilizer in-flight.
The crash was witnessed by hundreds of people, 349 of whom gave accounts of what they saw to the NTSB. About half (52%) reported a fire or explosion before the plane hit the ground. Others stated that they saw a wing detach from the aircraft, when in fact it was the vertical stabilizer.
Since the NTSB's report, American Airlines has modified its pilot training program. Previous simulator training did not properly reflect "the actual large build-up in sideslip angle and sideloads that would accompany such rudder inputs in an actual airplane", according to the NTSB final report.
American Airlines no longer used flight number 587. The flight route designation for the flight between JFK and Santo Domingo was initially renumbered to 619 and is now Flight 1749, using a Boeing 767-300 or a Boeing 757-200. American Airlines retired all its Airbus A300-600 Aircraft from service eight years after the accident (and 21 years in service) in August 2009 with its last flight, flight 1908 from Miami to New York-JFK operating on August 24, 2009.
Because the crash was two months after the September 11 attacks and occurred in New York, several major buildings including the Empire State Building and the United Nations Headquarters were evacuated. In the months after the crash, rumors suggested that it had been destroyed in a terrorist plot, with a shoe bomb similar to the one found on Richard Reid.
In May 2002, Mohammed Jabarah agreed to cooperate with investigators as part of a plea bargain. Among the details he gave authorities, was that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's lieutenant had told him that Reid and Abderraouf Jdey had both been enlisted by the al-Qaeda chief to carry out identical shoe-bombing plots as part of a second wave of attacks against the United States, and that they had successfully blown up Flight 587, while Reid had been stymied.
Nicholas Stix of Middle American News recounted the mutually contradictory theories that the NTSB had floated immediately following the crash, the statements made by retired fire fighters and police officers who had witnessed the crash, and the history of similar crashes, and concluded that the agency was frantically seeking to calm a public whose faith in commercial aviation had hit rock bottom.
The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the cause of the crash was overuse of the rudder mechanism.
According to the official accident report, after the first officer made his initial rudder pedal input, he made a series of alternating full rudder inputs. This led to increasing sideslip angles. The resulting hazardous sideslip angle led to extremely high aerodynamic loads that resulted in separation of the vertical stabilizer. If the first officer had stopped making these inputs at any time before the vertical stabilizer separation, the natural stability of the airplane would have returned the sideslip angle to near 0°, and the accident would have been avoided. The airplane performance study indicated that when the vertical stabilizer separation began, the aerodynamic loads were about two times the loads defined by the design envelope. It can be determined that the vertical stabilizer's structural performance was consistent with design specifications and exceeded certification requirements.
Contributing factors include the following: First, the first officer's predisposition to overreact to wake turbulence; second, the training provided by American Airlines that could have encouraged pilots to make large flight control inputs; third, the first officer likely did not understand an airplane's response to large rudder inputs at high airspeeds or the mechanism by which the rudder rolls a transport-category airplane; finally, light rudder pedal forces and small pedal displacement of the A300-600 rudder pedal system increased the airplane's susceptibility to a rudder misuse.
Airbus and American are currently[when?] disputing the extent to which the two parties are responsible for the disaster. American charges that the crash was mostly Airbus' fault because the A300 was designed with unusually sensitive rudder controls. Most aircraft require increased pressure on the rudder pedals to achieve the same amount of rudder control at a higher speed. The Airbus A300 and later A310 do not operate on a fly-by-wire flight control system, instead using conventional mechanical flight controls. The NTSB determined that "because of its high sensitivity, the A300-600 rudder control system is susceptible to potentially hazardous rudder pedal inputs at higher speeds". The Allied Pilots Association, in its submission to the NTSB, argued that the unusual sensitivity of the rudder mechanism amounted to a design flaw which Airbus should have communicated to the airline. The main rationale for their position came from a 1997 report that referenced 10 incidents in which A300 tail fins had been stressed beyond their design limitation.
Airbus charges that the crash was mostly American's fault because the airline did not train its pilots properly about the characteristics of the rudder. Aircraft tail fins are designed to withstand full rudder deflection in one direction at maneuvering speed. They are not usually designed to withstand an abrupt shift in rudder from one direction to the other. Most American Airlines pilots believed that the tail fin could withstand any rudder movement at maneuvering speed. The NTSB indicated that American Airlines' Advanced Aircraft Maneuvering Program tended to exaggerate the effects of wake turbulence on large aircraft. Therefore, pilots were being trained to react more aggressively than was necessary.
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All 260 people aboard the plane (246 fare-paying passengers, 5 unticketed infants and the crew of 9) died, along with 5 Belle Harbor residents on the ground.
Relatives gathered at Las Américas International Airport. The airport created a private area for relatives wishing to receive news about Flight 587. Some relatives arrived at the airport to meet passengers, unaware that the flight had crashed.
One of the passengers killed on the flight was Hilda Yolanda Mayol, a 26-year-old American woman on her way to vacation in her native Dominican Republic. Two months earlier, on September 11, Mayol worked at a restaurant on the ground floor of the World Trade Center and escaped before the building collapsed.
Early on, some reports erroneously stated that Dominican native and then Yankees second baseman Alfonso Soriano had been aboard Flight 587. The flight was regularly used by Major League Baseball players and scouts heading to the Dominican Republic, but it turned out that Soriano was actually booked for a flight a few days later.
A memorial was constructed in Rockaway Park, Belle Harbor's neighboring community, in memory of the 265 victims of the crash at the south end of Beach 116th Street, a major commercial street in the area. It was dedicated on November 12, 2006, the fifth anniversary of the incident, in a ceremony attended by Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg.
The memorial wall, designed by Dominican artist Freddy Rodríguez and Situ Studio, has windows and a doorway looking towards the nearby Atlantic Ocean and angled towards the Dominican Republic. It is inscribed with the names of the victims. Atop the memorial is a quote, in both Spanish and English, from Dominican poet Pedro Mir, reading "Después no quiero más que paz." (Translation: "Afterwards I want nothing more than peace.")
In 2001, there were 51 weekly direct flights between New York City and the Dominican Republic, with additional flights offered in December. Most of the flights were offered by American Airlines, and the airline was described as having a virtual monopoly on the route. Around 90% of the passengers on the accident flight were of Dominican descent.
The Guardian describes the flight as having "cult status" in Washington Heights, a Dominican area of Manhattan. Belkis Lora, a relative of a passenger on the crashed flight, said "Every Dominican in New York has either taken that flight or knows someone who has. It gets you there early. At home there are songs about it." Kugel said "For many Dominicans in New York, these journeys home are the defining metaphor of their complex push-pull relationship with their homeland; they embody, vividly and poignantly, the tug between their current lives and their former selves. That fact gave Monday's tragedy a particularly horrible resonance for New York's Dominicans." He also said "Even before Monday's crash, Dominicans had developed a complex love-hate relationship with American Airlines, complaining about high prices and baggage restrictions even while favoring the carrier over other airlines that used to travel the same route." David Rivas, the owner of the New York City travel agency Rivas Travel, said "For the Dominican to go to Santo Domingo during Christmas and summer is like the Muslims going to Mecca." In 1996 Kinito Mendez played the song El avión which mentions Flight 587.
The crash did not affect bookings for the New York to Santo Domingo route. Dominicans continued to book travel on the flights. American Airlines announced that it would end services between JFK and Santo Domingo on April 1, 2013.
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (November 2012)|
There have been two television documentaries made on the accident. An episode of the National Geographic Channel program Seconds From Disaster, first aired on September 6, 2006, examined the Flight 587 accident in detail. The episode was titled Plane Crash in Queens (also known as New York Air Crash). The BBC program Horizon also created an episode about the crash. An episode featuring Flight 587 is also planned for the upcoming thirteenth season of Mayday.
A 2010 episode of "Why Planes Crash" featured Flight 587. The episode was entitled "Human Error". It was aired on MSNBC.
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|Photos of N14053 at Airliners.net|
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