SCMP Thursday, November 15, 2001

Black-box evidence indicates plane crash was accident

GREG TORODE in Washington

Early indications suggest the crash of an American Airlines plane on a New York suburb was an accident, but investigators warn it could be weeks before terrorism is ruled out.
Transcripts from the black-box voice recorder revealed nothing suspicious and FBI sources said there was no indication American Airlines Flight 587 was targeted by terrorists.
The plane, an Airbus A300 bound for the Dominican Republic from New York's Kennedy Airport, crashed on the neighbourhood of Rockaway Beach less than two minutes after take-off. All 251 passengers and nine crew died, with nine people missing on the ground.
"There was nothing on the tape that would lead us to believe that it was anything other than an aviation accident," National Transportation Safety Board spokesman George Black said yesterday.
"The cockpit voice recorder is the biggest information that we have and a quick listen to that last evening in Washington showed nothing that would imply any sort of unusual activity in the cockpit other than the accident sequence."
Mr Black's comments followed a statement from the board's chairman, Marion Blakely, who said: "All indications are that it is an accident."
Ms Blakely's suggestion sparked a rally on Wall Street after a bruising day for air industry shares.
Investigators are scouring the wreckage for clues, but suspicion has fallen on the plane's engines. Witnesses heard an explosion and saw the left engine falling from the plane.
The General Electric CF6-80C2 engines have been subject to Federal Aviation Administration scrutiny for more than a year after reports of internal fragmentation. The engines - used on more than 1,000 planes globally, including the White House's Air Force One - were subject to mandatory inspections.
Reports said the engine that apparently failed in Monday's crash was recently overhauled, while the right engine was due for an overhaul soon.
An FBI inquiry has been launched, with investigators checking passenger lists and cargo manifests and the movements of terrorist suspects.
"There is just nothing out there now to point in any way to terrorism following the September 11 attacks," one government source said.
"If it was, then it has slipped right under our radar, there was no intelligence anywhere suggesting this plane was going to be targeted."
Two American Airlines planes were among the four hijacked on September 11. One was crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Centre in New York and the other crashed in Pennsylvania.
The Government and the aviation industry are keen to keep passengers confident and flying ahead of the crucial holiday season.
"If we find out it is a tragic accident, everybody will give a collective sigh of relief, which really shows how much stress we're under," said Darryl Jenkins, the director of George Washington University's Aviation Institute.