November 19, 2001
On the day of the crash, I had read a piece on abcnews.com describing how John and his wife, Jackie, were walking their dog that morning when they witnessed the flight and crash of American Airlines # 587. They had a very clear, unobstructed view of the flight path of the plane and it's crash into the Rockaways. Jackie's initial statements to the press mentioned an "enormous flash or explosion ... near where the wing meets the fuselage". I haven't been able to speak with Jackie, but John was kind enough to return my call and expounded to me everything he witnessed and tried to shed some light on his, and Jackie's, initial impressions of an explosion.
John and Jackie were interviewed by the FBI (they called the FBI) but not by the NTSB. Which seems a bit odd since this is currently viewed as an accident. We assume the FBI is sharing all interviews with the NTSB.
John's view was South-SouthEast, basically in the direction of both JFK Airport and the Rockaways, just a few miles away from the crash site. John noticed the plane well before it went into it's violent spin and subsequent nosedive. He immediately noticed smoke coming from the right engine as soon as he noticed the plane. The plane was banking left with nose up. His impression of the plane was that it was "struggling to move". It started to "slide across the sky" like a "car on ice". At this point, as John started to see more of the right side of the plane, and the rear of the right engine, he noticed a very visible, fiery-type glow ("like that of an afterburner on a fighter jet") that had given him the initial impression that there was a fire or explosive-type flash on the wing near the fuselage. Having replayed the scene in his mind later that night ... he felt that what he was sure he had seen was the fiery glow from the engine. The plane was still banked to the left with nose up. The right wing, which was already pointed upward due to the banking to the left, rolled all the way over to the left. At this point, and John was very clear about this, the plane "violently" spun or rolled three times then stopped. Nose still up. John described these movements as if the plane were "spinning like a top". When it came out of these violent rolls or spins, the plane just stopped (with nose still up) and started to move down (or backwards!). John was very clear and confident that this is what he saw. As it started this downward move, this is when John noticed a "huge rectangular piece fly free" from the plane and begin a slow "float" down towards the water (Jamaica Bay). Initially, John thought this may have been a cargo door, but after he saw the tail being pulled from the Bay on TV, he realized that is what he had seen. The plane had crashed before the free-floating piece fell into the water and had exhibited smoke from the engine, fire from the engine, violent spins and rolls, all before the tail flew free. This seems to throw into question the NTSB's current focus as the tail separation as the trigger event. John states that the tail came off when the plane had descended about one-third from it's peak altitude. The plane then shifted into a nose down position and plummeted straight down for the remaining two-thirds of it's horrific descent. John and Jackie were calling out "go into the water!, go into the water!" not wanting to see the added tragedy of the plane hitting the residential area they knew was right beneath the plane. John did not see the engines fall off since that seemed to happen not long before the plane hit the ground.
John feels it is possible the wake turbulence was a factor in the crash. However, he is also very clear that there was something severely wrong with the right engine; something fiery. He is also adamant that the tail was intact during the intial spins or rolls.
John's comments seem very much in sync with those of Antonio Villela, a construction worker who said "First I heard a big explosion. Then I saw flames come out from behind the plane. And then a whole wing with the engine fell off."
Barbara Morris said "I heard the sound of a plane that didn't sound right. It sounded like it was in trouble," Morris told ABCNEWS.com. The jet was in what appeared to be a takeoff position, she said, and it was on fire. Suddenly, Morris heard a boom. "But I couldn't see the plane, there was just black smoke and I saw the thing starting to go down," she said.
What seems to be very clear is that the tail separation does not seem to be the trigger event that can explain the fire all these witnesses saw--and why the engines later separated from the plane. Why the well-funded, well staffed, NTSB would focus on the tail in the face of these very clear witness statements is baffling.