December 14, 2001

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Ongoing Flight 587 Crash Investigation

The NTSB has recently concluded an inspection or teardown of both engines from flight 587 and initial indications are:

When we consider that some very compelling testimony (from more than one eyewitness) indicates there was a fiery-type glow or flash or explosion from the right side of the plane, in or very near the engine, that PRECEDED the separation of the tail assembly and the in-flight separation of the engines from the pylons ... then a new question arises: if there was no in-flight engine fire ... then where on the aircraft did that fire or explosion occur and what was its source?

Since the crash on November 12th, we have heard statements from the NTSB and other groups that eyewitnesses to these types of accidents are notoriously inaccurate. The Editor-in-Chief of an aviation web site went as far as to say:

I'm sure that the tabloid press ...will cover reports like those from Tom Lynch, but they're doing the public a disservice by doing so.

Tom Lynch is a retired New York City Firefighter who witnessed two explosions on flight 587; the first one ... smaller and on the right side of the craft, and a second much larger explosion (he speculates it was some of the fuel igniting since it was more of a fireball).

Please re-read what this Editor was saying. That a newspaper printing the remarks of eyewitnesses is doing the public a "disservice". I'm speechless. The Editor feels (as does the NTSB based on its earlier public comments) that the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) is the holy grail of accident reconstruction. If the FDR is so reliable, does it record the separation of the tail assembly on flight 587? Does it record the separation of the engines? My impression is that it does not. Then this holy device is limited and did not have the capability to record every event.

The FDR is a DATA recorder. I'd be an idiot to claim the data it records isn't valuable. But it would be equal folly to elevate a limited data recording device, created by mankind, to a level above that of the human brain (a "device" far more sophisticated than our fastest computers). The FDR does not record images, pictures, or video. The brains of the human beings who were eyewitnesses did record this event in this manner albeit sometimes those images in the brain can be a bit distorted, choppy, and sometimes altogether useless. But it is information that the FDR cannot provide. If a picture is worth a thousand words then perhaps a mental picture is worth a thousand bytes. Bytes the FDR does not have.

The eyewitnesses stood in different spots; some miles away. They all looked up at different points in the flight timeline. Their accounts will differ. These folks may misunderstand what they saw (one witness says he saw the wing fly off ... .maybe it was the tail assembly since that can look like a wing when viewed at an odd angle). But when multiple witnesses (some in Queens and some in Brooklyn) state emphatically that there was a fiery type event BEFORE the tail assembly flew off and BEFORE the engines fell off then they must be respected as much as, if not more than, the limited FDR.

I have spoken at length to John Power (his compelling testimony is here) and Firefighter Tom Lynch. Tom lives in Belle Harbor and was very close to the accident scene that morning. Tom is very frustrated because he feels the eyewitnesses have very quickly been marginalized, compartmentalized, and all but discarded. He wants to know what caused the first explosion. He's a trained observer as are all Firefighters. Anyone who knows anything about the Firefighter written exam and the recollection skills required, they would appreciate immensely having a firefighter as a witness. He knows an explosion occurred and only after that did the plane start to break apart in flight. John Power and Tom Lynch are adamant the tail assembly was intact before the plane went into its nose-first dive. Retired Police Lieutenant Jim Conrad (another trained observer and eyewitness to the flight and crash) says he saw exactly what Tom Lynch saw.

I assume the NTSB will conduct 2nd and 3rd interviews with the witnesses at the spots they were standing when they viewed the plane. Measurements taken. Geometry called upon. Timeline charted with each eyewitness. Basically, human eyewitnesses treated with the same respect and care and urgency and coddling the holy FDR receives when it's pulled from water or a hole in the ground.

Early sign of trouble?

There is a report from an anonymous source that the Port Authority Rescue vehicles at JFK Airport were rolling moments after flight 587 went airborne because "the plane was too low at the end of the runway". This would clearly indicate some early failure most probably unrelated to the tail assembly since the rudder is not a critical component so early in the takeoff. If this is true ... it raises two questions: If the NTSB is aware of this ... why would the focus still seem to be on the tail assembly? Or ... if they don't have this information ... why not!? Along with John Power's testimony of smoke from the right side of the plane (which was also spotted by a Jet Blue pilot), this early sign of trouble and the fiery-type event on the right side of the plane might point to some mechanical problem or sabotageunrelated to the tail assembly. It is possible that the wake turbulence from the 747 ahead of flight 587 could have caused the low altitude at takeoff. But why the smoke from the right side? Why the fiery event from the right side?

Victor Trombettas


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