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Archive for Thursday, February 21, 2002

FAA releases tapes of doomed flight in New York

February 21, 2002

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— Conversations between the pilots of American Airlines Flight 587 and air traffic control showed no problems as the plane took off, four minutes before crashing in a New York City neighborhood.

Tapes released Wednesday by the Federal Aviation Administration offered no clues to the cause of the Nov. 12, 2001, crash, which killed 265 people aboard the plane and on the ground.

The accident is being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board.

A controller from the tower at Kennedy Airport cleared Flight 587 to take off at 9:13:33 a.m. EST, with a warning about wake turbulence from the Japan Air Lines 747 that preceded it into the air. Other planes taking off behind large planes received similar warnings. One theory is that unusually strong turbulence broke off the American Airbus A300-600's tail, causing the plane to crash.

Once the plane was aloft, a Long Island-based controller began directing the plane, as is routine. At 9:15:37, the controller directed Flight 587 to head southeast of Kennedy Airport, where it would begin its assigned route to the Dominican Republic.

The pilots acknowledged the command five seconds later. It would be their last contact with air traffic control.

Then, at 9:16:13 a.m., the Kennedy tower heard, "Tower, look to the south, there's an aircraft crashing." Though the source was unknown, it appeared to be another pilot.

Thirty-six seconds later, the Long Island controller called Flight 587 and said he was not receiving signals from the plane's transponder, a beacon to track the aircraft. The controller tried three more times in the next two minutes to raise the pilots but got no answer.

The tower continued to receive reports of a crash.

"An aircraft just crashed to the south of the field," one message said.

"Affirm a fireball," another said.

Tower controllers began directing police helicopters to the scene.

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