American Airlines Flight 587
N14053, the aircraft involved in the accident in 1989.
|Date||November 12, 2001|
|Summary||Vertical stabilizer failure due to unnecessary rudder inputs:xi|
|Site||Belle Harbor, Queens, New York City, New York, United States|
|Fatalities||265 (260 on the aircraft and 5 on the ground)|
|Injuries (non-fatal)||1 (on the ground)|
|Aircraft type||Airbus A300B4-605R|
|Flight origin||John F. Kennedy International Airport
New York City, United States
|Destination||Las Américas International Airport
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
American Airlines Flight 587 was a regularly scheduled passenger flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City to Las Américas International Airport in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. On November 12, 2001, the Airbus A300B4-605R flying the route crashed shortly after takeoff into the Belle Harbor neighborhood of Queens, a borough of New York City. All 260 people aboard the plane (251 passengers and nine crew members) died, along with one dog carried in the cargo hold. Five bystanders and one additional dog were killed on the ground. It is the second-deadliest aviation accident involving an Airbus A300 (after Iran Air Flight 655), and the second-deadliest aviation accident to occur on U.S. soil (after American Airlines Flight 191).
The location of the accident and the fact that it took place two months and one day after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in Manhattan initially spawned fears of another terrorist attack. Terrorism was officially ruled out as the cause by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), 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 minutes before it. According to the NTSB, this aggressive use of the rudder controls by the co-pilot caused the vertical stabilizer to snap off the plane. The plane's two engines also separated from the aircraft before it hit the ground.
The accident aircraft, registration N14053, was an Airbus A300B4-605R delivered in 1988 with a seating configuration for 251 passengers and nine crew and powered by two General Electric CF6-80C2A5 engines. On-board were two flight crew members, Captain Ed States (42) and First Officer Sten Molin (34); seven cabin crew members; and 251 passengers.
The plane pushed back from its gate at 9:00 AM. It taxied to Runway 31L behind a Japan Airlines Boeing 747-400 bound for Tokyo. At 9:11 AM, the 747 was cleared for takeoff. As the JAL flight climbed, the tower controller cautioned the Flight 587 pilots about potential wake turbulence from the 747.:2
At 9:13:28, the A300 was cleared for takeoff on Runway 31L. The aircraft left the runway at 9:14:29, about 1 minute and 40 seconds after the JAL flight. From takeoff, the plane climbed to an altitude of 500 feet above mean sea level (msl) and then entered a climbing left turn to a heading of 220°. At 9:15:00, the pilot made initial contact with the departure controller, informing him that the airplane was at 1,300 feet and climbing to 5,000 feet. The departure controller instructed the aircraft to climb to and maintain 13,000 feet.:3
Data from the flight data recorder (FDR) showed that the events leading into the crash began at 9:15:36, when the aircraft hit wake turbulence from the JAL flight just in front of it. In response to the turbulence, the first officer alternated between moving the rudder from the left to the right and back again in quick succession for at least 20 seconds, until 9:15:56, when the stress caused the lugs that attached the vertical stabilizer and rudder to fail. The stabilizer separated from the aircraft and fell into Jamaica Bay, about one mile north of the main wreckage site. Eight seconds later, the stall warning sounded on the cockpit voice recorder.
At the moment the stabilizer separated from the aircraft, the plane pitched downwards, headed straight for Belle Harbor. As the pilots struggled to control the aircraft, it went into a flat spin. The resulting aerodynamic loads sheared both engines from the aircraft seconds before impact. The engines landed several blocks north and east of the main wreckage site. The loss of engines cut power to the FDR at 9:16:00, while the CVR (cockpit voice recorder), utilizing a battery backup, cut off at 9:16:15, moments before impact with the ground. The main impact location was the intersection of Newport Avenue and Beach 131st Street.:50
Initial terrorism concerns
Because the crash happened two months and one day 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 the plane 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 foiled.
The informational memo which suggested that Jdey had a role in the crash was a Canadian government memo written around May 2002. According to that memo, the reliability of the source for this information—Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's lieutenant—was "unknown." The Canadian memo also specified how Jdey, a naturalized Canadian citizen, was to use his own Canadian passport to board the flight. While American Airlines' passenger manifest indicated citizens boarding with passports from the United States, the Dominican Republic, Taiwan, France,[a] Haiti and Israel—not one passenger boarding the aircraft used a Canadian passport. According to NTSB spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz, the weight of the memo's supposed veracity begins to lessen with the fact that no evidence of a terrorist traveling on board was found, continues to lessen upon evidence that the aircraft was brought down after a piece of the empennage, "the vertical fin, came off", and ultimately evaporates with the lack of indication of "any kind of event in the cabin."
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 force of the air flowing against the moving rudder stressed the aircraft's vertical stabilizer, 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 vertical stabilizer 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 (AAMP).
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 aluminium, all connected by a titanium bolt; damage analysis showed that the bolts and aluminium 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 Airbus's Toulouse factory, 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.
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. Some witnesses reported seeing one of the engines burst into flames and break off the plane, and others reported hearing a loud sound like a sonic boom.
According to the official accident report, the captain repeatedly moved the rudder from fully left to fully right. 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 moving the rudder at any time before the vertical stabilizer failed, the airplane would have levelled out on its own, 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 use the rudder this aggressively; third, the first officer likely not understanding an airplane's response to full rudder 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.:151
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 Airbus A310 do not operate on a fly-by-wire flight control system, but instead use conventional mechanical flight controls. The NTSB asserted that the A300-600 rudder control system was vulnerable to unecessarily excessive rudder inputs. 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 charged that the crash was mostly American Airlines' fault arguing that 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 when below maneuvering speed, but this does not guarantee that they can withstand an abrupt shift in rudder from one direction to the other. The NTSB indicated that American Airlines' Advanced Aircraft Maneuvering Program (AAMP) tended to exaggerate the effects of wake turbulence on large aircraft. Therefore, pilots were being trained to react more aggressively than was necessary. According to author Amy Fraher, this led to concerns of whether it was appropriate for the AAMP to be placing such importance on "the role of flight simulators in teaching airplane upset recovery at all." Fraher states that the key to understanding the crash of Flight 587 ultimately lay in "how the accident pilots' expectations about aircraft performance were erroneously established through 'clumsy' flight simulator training in American's AAMP."
Statement of probable cause
From the NTSB report of the accident:
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the in-flight separation of the vertical stabilizer as a result of the loads beyond ultimate design that were created by the first officer’s unnecessary and excessive rudder pedal inputs. Contributing to these rudder pedal inputs were characteristics of the Airbus A300-600 rudder system design and elements of the American Airlines Advanced Aircraft Maneuvering Program (AAMP).:160
Since the NTSB's report, American Airlines has modified its pilot training program.
|Republic of China||3||-||-||3|
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. The authorities at John F. Kennedy International Airport used the JFK Ramada Plaza to house relatives and friends of the victims of the crash. Because of its role in housing friends and relatives of several plane crashes, the hotel became known as the "Heartbreak Hotel". Due to the fact that many families were ethnic Dominicans, the hotel prepared Dominican cuisine for them. The family crisis center later moved to the Javits Center in Manhattan.
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 9/11, Mayol was working at a restaurant on the ground floor of the World Trade Center and escaped before the tower 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 booked for a flight a few days later; a Dominican teammate of Soriano, utility infielder Enrique Wilson, was originally booked on the flight, but after the Yankees' defeat in the World Series, he had decided to return home a few days earlier.
In 2001, there were 51 weekly direct flights between JFK and the Dominican Republic, with additional flights offered in December. Most of the flights were offered by American Airlines,:1 and the airline was described as having a virtual monopoly on the route.:2 Around 90% of the passengers on the accident flight were of Dominican descent.
The Guardian described 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." Seth Kugel, writing for The New York Times, 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.":1 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.":2 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.":4 
The crash did not affect bookings for the JFK-Santo Domingo route. Dominicans continued to book travel on the flights.:4 American Airlines announced that it would end services between JFK and Santo Domingo on April 1, 2013.
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 accident, in a ceremony attended by then Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg. A ceremony commemorating the disaster is held annually at the memorial every Nov 12, featuring a reading of the names of those killed aboard the aircraft and on the ground, with a formal moment of silence observed at 9:16 a.m., the estimated time of the crash. The memorial wall, designed by Dominican artist Freddy Rodríguez and Situ Studio, has windows and a doorway looking toward the nearby Atlantic Ocean and angled toward the Dominican Republic. It is inscribed with the names of the victims. Atop the memorial is a quotation, 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.")
There have been multiple documentaries made on the accident.
- A 2006 episode of the National Geographic Channel program Seconds From Disaster examined the Flight 587 accident in detail. The episode was titled Plane Crash in Queens (also known as New York Air Crash).
- A 2006 episode of Modern Marvels on The History Channel also aired an episode entitled "Engineering Disasters 20", which featured detailed information on Flight 587.
- The Discovery Channel Canada / National Geographic TV series Mayday (also called Air Crash Investigation or Air Emergency) dramatized the accident in a 2014 episode titled Queens Catastrophe.
- The BBC program Horizon also created an episode about the crash.
- An episode of Aircrash Confidential on Discovery Channel also featured Flight 587. The episode was entitled "Pilot Error."
- A 2011 episode of Why Planes Crash featured Flight 587. The episode was entitled "Human Error". It was aired on MSNBC.
- Passenger Sylvie Greleau, identified as British by American Airlines, carried a French passport. One additional passenger, Jean Heuze, also carried a French passport.
- "In-Flight Separation of Vertical Stabilizer, American Airlines Flight 587, Airbus Industrie A300-605R, N14053, Belle Harbor, New York, November 12 2001" (PDF). National Transportation Safety Board. October 26, 2004. Retrieved January 13, 2016.
- Vidoli, Giovanna M.; Mundorff, Amy Z. (April 1, 2012). "Victim Fragmentation Patterns and Seat Location Supplements Crash Data: American Airlines Flight 587". Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine. 83 (4): 412. doi:10.3357/ASEM.3155.2012.
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The Foreign Office has said passenger Sylvie Greleau, identified as British by American Airlines, carried a French passport, and as far it was concerned she was French. Ms Greleau, a sales and marketing director for Menzies Aviation Group, was formerly based in London.
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- Bella, Timothy; Fearnow, Benjamin (November 11, 2011). "Remembering America's Second-Deadliest Plane Crash". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on May 2, 2014.
- "Aviation Safety and Pilot Control: Understanding and Preventing Unfavorable Pilot-Vehicle Interactions" (Press release). Washington, D.C: Washington National Academy Press. 1997. Archived from the original on October 17, 2013. Retrieved October 16, 2013.
- Fraher, Amy L. (July 2015). "Technology-Push, Market-Demand and the Missing Safety-Pull: A Case Study of American Airlines Flight 587". New Technology, Work and Employment. 30 (2): 124. doi:10.1111/ntwe.12050.
- "Pilot error blamed for Flight 587 crash", AP, accessed February 7, 2008. Archived May 9, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
- Barry, Dan; Gootman, Elissa (November 14, 2001). "THE CRASH OF FLIGHT 587: BELLE HARBOR; 5 Neighbors Gone, and a Jet Engine Where a Child's Bike Might Have Been". The New York Times. Archived from the original on December 25, 2013. Retrieved May 13, 2013.
- "Shocked relatives gather at Dominican airport." CNN. November 13, 2001. Retrieved on June 6, 2007. Archived December 18, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
- "Hotel Near JFK Airport is Familiar With Airline Tragedy ." (Archive) CNN. November 17, 2011. Retrieved on March 9, 2014.
- Adamson, April (September 4, 1998). "229 Victims Knew Jet Was In Trouble Airport Inn Becomes Heartbreak Hotel Again". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved January 13, 2016.
- Banduci, Lucy (November 15, 2011). "JFK's Ramada Hotel Once Again Becomes Makeshift Crisis Center". Queens Chronicle. Retrieved January 13, 2016.
- "Airline releases victim list". CNN. November 15, 2001. Archived from the original on June 12, 2009. Retrieved June 6, 2009.
- Younge, Gary (November 10, 2006). "Flight to the death". The Guardian. Archived from the original on November 13, 2012. Retrieved October 15, 2013.
- Mikkelson, Barbara (April 23, 2008). "WTC Survivor Dies on AA Flight 587, Second Scythe". Snopes.com. Retrieved October 15, 2013.
- "Soriano Heads Home To Help." New York Daily News. November 15, 2001. Retrieved on June 6, 2012. Archived August 15, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
- Kepner, Tyler (November 13, 2001). "BASEBALL: Scouts had used doomed flight". The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 13, 2013. Retrieved October 15, 2013.
- Davidof, Ken (November 14, 2001). "Soriano Hardly a Victim / He wasn't on doomed flight, but will help Dominicans". Newsday.com. Archived from the original on October 2, 2013. Retrieved October 15, 2013.
- Olney, Buster (May 3, 2005). "Epilogue: 'The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty'". Retrieved January 13, 2016.
- Kugel, Seth (November 18, 2001). "Now Boarding, Dreams". The New York Times. Retrieved January 13, 2016.
- "American Airlines S11 International Operation changes as of 23JAN11". London: UBM plc. January 23, 2011. Archived from the original on March 10, 2014. Retrieved March 10, 2014.
- Smith, Patrick (November 5, 2004). "Don't blame the pilot for the crash of Flight 587. The truth is much more complicated". Salon.com. Archived from the original on November 28, 2011. Retrieved October 15, 2013.
- Myers, Gay Nagle (January 28, 2013). "American chops two D.R. routes from New York". Travel Weekly. Retrieved October 15, 2013.
- "American Airlines Cancels New York – Santo Domingo / Santiago". London: UBM plc. January 14, 2013. Archived from the original on March 10, 2014. Retrieved March 10, 2014.
- Flight 587 Memorial Dedicated in Rockaways, WNYC, accessed November 16, 2006. Archived December 21, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
- "Families dedicate Flight 587 memorial on 5-year anniversary". The International Herald Tribune. IHT. The Associated Press. November 12, 2006. Archived from the original on February 1, 2009.
- Lee, Trymaine (May 7, 2007). "Only 4 Coffins, but 265 Victims Are Mourned at Mass in the Bronx". The New York Times. NYTimes Co. Archived from the original on October 14, 2017.
- "New York Air Crash". Seconds From Disaster. Season 3. 2006. National Geographic Channel.
- "Engineering Disasters 20". Modern Marvels. Season 13. 2006. The History Channel.
- "Queens Catastrophe". Mayday. Season 13. 2014. Discovery Channel Canada / National Geographic Channel.
- "Horizon: Flight 587". BBC Home. May 8, 2003. Archived from the original on May 1, 2013.
- Aircrash Confidential: Pilot Error on IMDb
- Why Planes Crash: Human Error on IMDb
- Indonesia AirAsia Flight 8501 where the crash also involved pilot error and the rudder travel limiter.
- List of accidents and incidents involving commercial aircraft
|Photos of N14053 at Airliners.net|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to American Airlines Flight 587.|
- NTSB Accident Report on AA 587 (1.86 MB) (Archive)
- NTSB Cockpit Voice Recorder Transcript (76.5 KB; Archive)
- Archive of AA.com on November 13, 2001
- Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la Sécurité de l'Aviation Civile.
- Photos of the plane involved in the accident and of the crash scene from Airliners.net
- "The Mayor's Fund to Advance NYC – Flight 587 Memorial Project". New York City Government Website (NYC.gov). Archived from the original on March 9, 2012.
- Algarobba, Hector; Burkeman, Oliver (September 11, 2002). "Hector Algarobba's essay on how he was affected by the disaster of AA587". The Guardian. Archived from the original on November 13, 2012.
- "A Wave Exclusive….Flight 587 Witnesses Speak Out At Wave Sponsored Meeting". The Wave. July 20, 2002. Archived from the original on November 14, 2012.
- Hoffstadt, Brett; Trombettas, Victor (July 24, 2004). "U.S.Read's Flight 587 Preliminary Report: Executive Summary". Usread.Com. Archived from the original on January 16, 2013.
- Trombettas, Victor (March 4, 2005). "U.S.Read's response to the NTSB's AA587 Final Report: An Improbable Probable Cause". Usread.Com. Archived from the original on January 16, 2013.
- Mikkelson, Barbara (October 27, 2004). "Snopes.com: American Airlines Flight 587 Crash, Dare Deviled". Snopes.com.
- "Aviation Investigation Report A08W0007 – Encounter with Wake Turbulence (TSB Canada investigation of a non-fatal accident with similar characteristics to American 587)". April 24, 2004. Archived from the original on October 17, 2013.
- Switzer, George F. (January 2003). "Documentation for Three Wake Vortex Model Data Sets from Simulation of Flight 587 Wake Vortex Encounter Accident Case" (PDF). NASA.