I must thank all the folks who continue to provide me with priceless assistance and advice. They are members of the Aviation and Aerospace communities who have reviewed the same facts and share my concerns.
I'd also like to thank Rockaway, NY resident, and eyewitness, Tom Lynch for his tireless efforts, especially in locating more witnesses. A man fueled by dismay (and a healthy dose of New York City anger) that the explosions he witnessed on Flight 587 (while in-flight with the tail attached!) is deemed by the NTSB as a possible group illusion. Being that Tom was a New York City Firefighter, he doesn't appreciate anyone implying he may be hallucinating about his area of expertise ... fire!
I have met many wonderful people from Southern Brooklyn and throughout the Rockaways. Good citizens from all walks of life. People who unknowingly, corroborate each others stories of what they saw that morning.
Unfortunately, what these people saw, and the points I will discuss below, are not in sync with the information flowing from the NTSB. That disparity continues to be a troubling mystery.
I have done some informal surveys of people-on-the-street and when I ask them "what caused the crash of Flight 587 in the Rockaways?", the two most popular answers are (1) wake turbulence and (2) the pilots did something wrong (i.e., wild swings of the rudder). The NTSB states they have not determined the cause of the crash but the public seems to have gotten quite a different message. The NTSB has previously stated that the tail separating from the plane is what caused the crash and the two notable instigators of that event have been wake turbulence and the infamous 5 rudder movements (the NTSB did state those movements could have been caused by the Pilot or Flight Controls). There are reasons for doubting wake turbulence was a factor. There are also reasons to suspect there were disturbing events occurring on that plane before the 5 rudder movements and before the tail broke free. Those reasons are eleven separate events or problems that indicate Flight 587 was in a quickly deteriorating situation before the rudder movements began and the tail broke off.
The NTSB considers wake turbulence a foregone conclusion (as of their April 12th update). Based on all the data that is currently available, it is extremely unlikely Flight 587 encountered the wake vortices of Japan Air Lines Flight 47 (JAL47). This is discussed in more detail at http://usread.com/flight587/Timelinev2/timelinev2.html. Those events the NTSB attributes to wake turbulence are also counted as events that point to another cause below.
(1) At 9:15:25 a.m.: The transponder sends corrupted data (the transponder is the device on the plane, just behind the cockpit and under the floor, that transmits the plane's altitude and position information to all interrogating radars). Megadata Inc. (a radar company that sells radar information from their PASSUR system to the airlines) stated that it's the same thing as when we see a corrupted text file on our computers. Too much air traffic can cause this. Electrical disturbances onboard the plane can also account for this.
(2) At 9:15:39 a.m.: First 1/10th g-force lateral movement recorded by the FDR (Flight Data Recorder)
(3) At 9:15:40: First airframe rattle heard on CVR (Cockpit Voice Recorder)
(4) At 9:15:52: The Crew press both mikes present on their yokes (or steering wheels) and at least one of them says "try escape". This statement is heard on the JFK Departure Control tape. "Escape" is an established American Airlines procedure for recovering from a dangerous situation the crew believes may be the result of wind shear or microbursts. I discuss this more in-depth in the Timeline v2 article.
(5) Also at 9:15:52: According to information the NTSB released to me on March 25th, the transponder is sending erroneous altitude data at this point. The radar data is also available in the Timeline v2 article.
(6) At 9:15:54: a second period where the plane's airframe rattles can be heard on the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR).
(7) At 9:15:57: The transponder again sends corrupted data (as per Megadata).
(8) At 9:15:58: Pilot calls for max power (the problem is not that the Pilot called for max power, but why).
(9) At 9:15:59: Second of two 1/10th g-force lateral movement recorded by the FDR. This is also when the five rudder movements begin.
(10) Also at 9:15:59: Interference picked up on the JFK Departure Control tape. High probability from Flight 587 indicating a problem with their VHF transceiver or electrical interference on board the plane that also affected the transponder. Within the next 11 seconds several disturbing sounds are heard on both the JFK Departure Control tape and the JFK Local Control tape.
(11) At 9:16:00: The CVR records the crew stating they are "losing control". It appears from the FAA Tapes the crew has stated "mayday, losing control". At this point, only two of the five rudder movements have occurred, the tail is still attached, yet the crew has lost control.
Eleven problems ... before the rudder movements ... before the tail separation.
This point cannot be overstressed - the crew went to max power to save their precious cargo at 9:15:58. Before the rudder movements started and 6.5 seconds before the tail broke free. The proof that they were in a terrible situation is that only 2 seconds after performing a procedure that should have assisted them they had instead lost control. NTSB Board member George Black Jr. got it partially correct back in November when he said the crew was in "recovery mode" when they had called for max power. What he got terribly wrong was that the tail had not yet broken off. That event does not occur until 9:16:04.5, four and half seconds after the crew has announced they've lost control. This is very compelling evidence that the 5 rudder movements (which begin at 9:15:59 and end at 9:16:04.5) and the tail separation (which occurs at 9:16:04.5), were not the cause of the crash. The rudder had completed a maximum of 2 of the 5 rudder movements when the pilots declared loss of control.
These events do not automatically point to criminal activity. What they undoubtedly point to, and this is one of the concerns of the Airbus A300 Pilots who have called for grounding of the fleet, is a catastrophic loss of flight control. In other words, the pilots were aware of a difficult situation on board, did what they were trained to do to save the plane, yet couldn't, because the plane was fighting them.
What caused this loss of flight control? If we look at the fact the transponder was misbehaving, the radio communications were exhibiting interference, along with these two additional pieces of evidence I didn't mention above ... the transponder and Flight Data Recorder (FDR) completely failed at around 9:16:06 and 9:16:07, then it's a very reasonable speculation that there was a significant disturbance on board that had a negative impact on various electrical systems. It is possible this disturbance also negatively affected the computers that run the flight control software, or, if the disturbance was severe enough, to have affected the mechanical control systems that control the rudder for example. What can cause disturbances to different electrical components? A fire or explosion, or, a fire leading to explosion(s) is one very likely suspect.
What if a fire or explosion is not the cause? That's certainly possible. But then we have greater difficulty explaining all the electrical disturbances and systems failures. Could all these systems independently malfunction without a common cause?
This does not automatically point to terrorism. Fires can start on planes without criminal activity. But since a fire or explosion is clearly still a suspect, how was the NTSB able to say, on the day of the crash, that "ALL indications are that this is an accident"? All indications? Including the "indications" from numerous witnesses who said they saw in-flight fires, explosions, and smoke? Many who said they witnessed these events while the plane was intact (i.e., tail was attached).
There are many witnesses who saw many disturbing things about this terrible accident. But the following observations (made by no less than five people), because of the fact that they are made early in the flight, are the most revealing, and further the possibility that a fire or explosion triggered catastrophic flight control malfunctions:
Witnesses Alpha and Beta (they wish their names withheld) were only a mile from JFK just off Cross Bay Blvd. They observed the plane flying normally. The first sign of trouble was an explosive flash in the fuselage behind the right wing. The plane immediately started trailing smoke. A few seconds later they lost sight of the plane as it passed behind a building that obstructed their view. This account is the earliest one in the flight path I've encountered. The tail was still attached.
Witness John Power (and his wife) were west of Witnesses Alpha and Beta, in southern Brooklyn, not far from the northern point of the Marine Parkway Bridge. They first observed the plane with a trail of smoke coming from its right side. The plane's attitude was nose-up and to the left but apparently struggling, or "sliding like a car on ice" as John puts it. John and Jackie also observe what they think is fire on the right side of the plane, by the wing. This sliding occurs for about 5 seconds with the nose rotating up higher and higher. The plane then does a complete, slow, 360 degree roll to the left. As soon as that slow roll is finished the plane goes into what John calls "violent movements" or spins. Aviators describe these spins as flat spins. There were at least 3 to 5 spins that took no more than 2 seconds to complete. The plane came out of those spins in a level position with nose up and started to lose altitude. The tail was still attached at this point. It is a couple of seconds later that John observes the plane shed a part the "size of a cargo door".
Witness Gamma was working on the south side of the Marine Parkway Bridge. He observed the counter-clockwise flat spins John Power described. He also observed a fire "where the wing meets the fuselage" on the right side of the plane along with smoke.
The fact the major media has not reported these events is disheartening. The fact the NTSB hasn't painted this picture for us is puzzling. Especially since we have not heard them say they are very interested in the timeframe before the rudder movements.
I haven't proven anything, nor am I trying to sell the terrorism angle. The problem is that I and many others have so many questions, and so few answers. In addition, the NTSB is releasing practically no hard data about Flight 587. We're told to wait till the factual reports are released in late Summer.
If you are concerned by all of this, please call your local Representative(s) and express your concern. And give your local newspaper and favorite TV news crew a ring and tell them to wake up and smell the coffee.