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August 23, 2002
The Engines of Flight 587
Victor Trombettas
Special thanks to John Baxter and Queens Public TV for some of the better images below.
Engine 1 is the Port (or left side engine). Engine 2 is the Starboard (or right side engine).
The model number of these GE engines is CF6-80C2A5.

The No. 1 engine on the left side had logged 694 hours since its last overhaul. The No. 2 engine, on its right side, had logged 9,788 hours since its last overhaul. The engines undergo major overhauls every 10,000 hours of service, therefore the right engine was almost due for a major overhaul. The No. 2 engine had undergone a shop inspection 2,987 hours earlier.

The NTSB made the following statement in their December 18th, 2001 Update:
Both engines were transported to an American Airlines heavy maintenance facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma. An engine "teardown," or detailed examination, was conducted from November 28 to December 4. There was no evidence found of an uncontained engine failure, case rupture, inflight fire, foreign object damage such as a bird strike, or pre-impact malfunction.
The NTSB has indicated that that the engines separated from the plane in-flight after the Flight Data Recorder prematurely stopped working, but they have not indicated if the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) gives them a clear indication as to exactly when the separations occurred. Therefore, at this point we must rely on eyewitness statements which indicate the plane was headed approximately in a southeast direction as it was approaching the northern seawall of the peninsula.
The right engine separated first (after a very large explosion or fuel eruption or compressor stall/surge had engulfed most of the plane in flames and smoke). The plane quickly banked or rolled left almost 90 degrees after the liberation of the right engine, then it appears both the vertical stabilizer and left engine quickly followed (it also appears at least one large piece of the rudder had separated earlier, prior to the vertical stabilizer separating). It's important to note that the engines liberated long after the plane had flown out of control (as witnessed by John and Jackie Power and Witness Gamma), but the plane was not flat spinning when the engines departed as many experts (and some Investigators) have speculated. The reason I can say that so confidently is that of the dozens of witnesses I've spoken to, only two witnessed the flat spins that occurred at higher altitude, but many more saw at least one engine separate later in the timeline and none of them saw flat spins. The engines departed after the large explosion witnessed by witnesses Lynch, Conrad, Catanese, and many others. That explosion was not the cause of the crash because the plane had flown out of control before that. The earliest witnesses in the timeline we have located are Witnesses Alpha and Beta. They saw the plane within 30 seconds after takeoff and observed it flying normally for approximately 30 seconds after which they noticed a bright, white/yellow flash on the right side of the plane aft of the wing. An unbroken smoke trail began emerging from the plane at that point as it maintained its general attitude while it was losing altitude. Alpha and Beta say they lost sight of the plane within 10 seconds from that moment when the plane went behind a firehouse that was down the block from where they were sitting that morning. These gentlemen saw the plane before the out of control sequence witnessed by John and Jackie Power and Witness Gamma. Therefore, what Alpha and Beta saw is most compelling, especially since the smoke that followed the explosive flash was a steady, thick trail. This type of smoke trail is inconsistent with an engine simply backfiring (compressor stall or surge) as those events generally put out puffs of smoke. The loss of altitude they report is also very interesting as it clearly points to a severe loss of power/thrust.
What did Alpha and Beta see? It could have been a fuselage explosion. It could have been an engine problem, but the engine teardowns have identified no in-flight damage. Many experts agree the smoke trail these witnesses report could not have been compressor stalls/surges. We don't have many options left to us. And these witnesses agree the plane was intact at this point and no debris had fallen off the plane yet.
A source within the investigation described the 587 Investigation as looking for a needle in a haystack and they've yet to find the needle.
That being the case, would it hurt the investigation to interview the witnesses where they spotted the plane and triangulate positions, take GPS readings, etc. It's clear the flight recorders have not turned over the needle yet. Maybe it lies with the witnesses.
At the bottom of this web page (below the picture thumbnails), I've copied and pasted early reports (most from abcnews.com) that seem to paint quite a picture that includes smoke and fire accounts, some from pilots.
Click each image for a larger version:

engine_1_pic1.jpg (44 K)
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 Scroll down for more of this report ->

From various news sources:

A pilot of another jet saw smoke coming off Flight 587's engine as the jet took off, sources say, as did a passenger on another plane.

Based on the sketchy details emerging from the crash site, ABCNEWS aviation consultant John Nance said two explanations are possible for the jet's downing. There could have been a loss of control of the aircraft due to an internal explosion for mechanical reasons, or there could have been an explosion of an incendiary device inside the plane.

Investigators also were combing eyewitnesses accounts, including one from a commercial pilot on the ground. That pilot said the jet appeared to have suffered a catastrophic mechanical problem on takeoff, and the pilot apparently was trying to get the ailing jet airborne to return to the airport.

The pilot said he saw the engine catch fire, separate from the wing and fall to the ground, an official said.

ABCNEWS' Brian Ross reported the pilot of another American Airlines jet reported seeing smoke coming out of one of the engines as 587 climbed.

ABCNEWS aviation consultant John Nance said these reports could suggest the crash was caused by an engine failure, although he stresses at this point that possible causes of the crash can only be speculative.

"If you have a smoke trail behind the engine, you have a problem in that engine - and that problem could have come to a catastrophic end," he said. "[It] could have taken some of the structure with it."

Aaron Gelman, an aviation expert at Northwestern University, adds that even if Flight 587 experienced an engine failure, it would be unusual for such an incident to cause the plane to crash. He explains that engines are designed to break off cleanly if they experience problems.

"When an engine fails, it shouldn't take down the whole plane," he said. "They're designed to separate cleanly."

In December 2000, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that the Federal Aviation Association step up inspections of the engine model that powered the crashed plane. The order was based on a finding that an apparent disintegration problem inside the engine model could cause a "catastrophic accident."

The call for inspections followed at least three incidents, including:

The failure of a CF6 engine on a US Airways jet during a maintenance check on Sept. 22, 2000. As mechanics tested the aircraft on a runway at Philadelphia, the engine blew apart. The National Transportation Safety Board determined if the incident had occurred while the plane was in flight, it "might not have been able to maintain safe flight."

The aborted takeoff on June 7, 2000, of a Varig Airlines Boeing 767 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, after the CF6 engine partially disintegrated. It was determined that the cracks in the engine's compressor system led to the problems.

A CF6 engine on a Continental Airlines DC-10 broke up on takeoff in April 2000 from Newark International Airport.

GE's Kennedy said it was determined that some early versions of the engine were experiencing "rubbing" problems - meaning the rotating parts inside the engine were rubbing against static parts.

"That problem has since been corrected, we're not having any problems in the field with that now," he said.

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