Washington — During the final moments of American Airlines Flight 587, the pilots struggled in vain to keep the plane aloft when they encountered turbulence shortly after takeoff, according to the transcript of a tape released Tuesday.
The cockpit voice recorder captured the conversation between Capt. Edward States and co-pilot Sten Molin during the 103-second flight, which ended when the tailfin broke off and the plane crashed into a residential neighborhood in Queens, N.Y., on Nov. 12, 2001.
The plane was bound for the Dominican Republic. All 260 people aboard the Airbus A300-600 died, as did five on the ground. It was the second-deadliest crash on U.S. soil.
"Hang onto it, hang onto it," States implored as the plane hit turbulence from a Boeing 747 flying five miles ahead of it.
"Let's go for power, please," Molin said.
A second later came a loud bang, which investigators believe was the tail breaking off. Then came the roar of air rushing against the aircraft and alarms sounding in the cockpit.
"What the hell are we into (inaudible)?" Molin said. "We're stuck in it."
States' last recorded words came five seconds later: "Get out of it! Get out of it!"
The National Transportation Safety Board released the transcript at the start of a four-day public hearing on the crash. Investigators also revealed two videotapes of the flight, one from a construction crew and one from a security camera at a toll booth.
The families of the victims, most of whom were Dominican, were stunned to see the videotapes. One showed the plane taking off and, later, the smoke billowing from the crash in the distance. The other showed a tiny, grainy image of the plane as it descended from the sky, developing into a light smudge along its trajectory.
An examination of the accident sequence showed the rudder's movements were consistent with pressure on the pedal that controls the rudder.
Investigators believe a series of sharp rudder movements caused the plane's tailfin to break off less than two minutes after takeoff from John F. Kennedy International Airport. Whether the rudder movements were caused by pilot action or by an anomaly in the rudder system is a focus of the inquiry, he said.