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U.S.Read's Flight 587
Part 4: The Tollbooth
Video And The FBI's "Ongoing Investigation"
August 18, 2004
end of article for a February 14, 2005 update in re the "original"
Brett Hoffstadt and Victor Trombettas
(We include some "Late Breaking Info"
the end of this article which came to us after the completion of this
part of our report)
Two cameras mounted at the Marine Parkway Bridge tollbooth plaza in
Brooklyn captured, in a series of still shots, the most critical
portion of Flight 587's departure from JFK. These pictures
include the entire sequence of the pilot's control inputs, the loud
bang, the loss of control, the "flash" and large smoke or mist trail,
and the first 1,000 feet of descent. Unfortunately, the quality
of the video is very poor; it is monochrome and the image of
the aircraft is little more than a small horizontal line. Figure
1 shows how the aircraft appears on the video:
A low-quality, compressed Windows Media file of the relevant
portion of the tollbooth video is freely available from the NTSB's web
The NTSB's Video Study (a pdf file) is available at:
but includes no
information concerning the analysis the NTSB performed to determine if
any debris was seen falling from Flight 587 (FL587).
The first half of the video shows the aircraft from the Lane 1 camera
until it passes behind the building. The video is then
superimposed with the Lane 5 view of FL587. The switchover from
Lane 1 to 5 provides a seamless view of FL587 for approximately 19
seconds. The video time (counter) stamped on the screen was
approximately 49 seconds
ahead of Air Traffic Control (ATC) time, the latter being the official
time used in reference to
According to the NTSB, the tail separates during the Lane 1 view, when
it is one second beyond the pole just to the left of the building. But
they also acknowledge that nothing is seen falling in the Lane 1 view
(see Figure 2). If the tail departed here, it is very
unusual that a flash and misting of the hydraulic
fluid is not visible (as occurs later in the Lane 5 view). There
are three hydraulic lines that run to into the tail/rudder of the
pressurized at up to 3,000 psi.
2 - with the tail allegedly already
FL587's Altitude And
The NTSB used a copy
of the video to calculate the altitude of the
aircraft after the Digital Data Recorder (DFDR) lost its data
stream and the
aircraft's transponder ceased sending altitude data to the radar
Surprisingly, the NTSB's altitude calculations derived from the
tollbooth video contradicted a plot of FL587's altitude in their
Performance Report. The
Video Study showed that at 9:16:06 a.m. (8 seconds after the time the
tail allegedly separated) FL587 was at an altutude of 2,428 feet.
NTSB's Aircraft Performance Report showed an altitude of 1,843
feet. U.S.Read has
informed the NTSB of this
contradiction, and has been told they will be corrected to reflect the
more accurate altitude from the Video Study. Figure 3 shows
the altitude calculations the NTSB derived from
the tollbooth video. Figure 4 shows the NTSB's altitude calculations
that had not taken the video into consideration.
3 - from the NTSB's Video Study (the
Time column shows UTC time - the 14th hour is 9 a.m. local time)
Figure 4 - from the NTSB's Aircraft
The incorrect altitude plot (Figure 4) was likely based on an NTSB
that the aircraft started to lose altitude immediately after the time
the tail and engines separated, 9:15:58.5 a.m. and 9:16:01.2 a.m.,
respectively. But the altitude data derived from the video
disproves this original
This error cannot be quickly brushed aside by the NTSB as a data entry
error or as an insignificant miscalculation on their part. Their
incorrect altitude data was a logical assumption based on their
of how and when the aircraft broke apart and descended, with the
separation of the tail identified by the NTSB as the initiating
Now that those initial altitude assumptions have been acknowledged as
the theory that gave rise to those numbers (that the tail had separated
at the time of the loud bang) must be re-examined.
Although of very poor quality, the tollbooth video shows that the
aircraft lost only 70 feet of altitude up to 9:16:06.2, when the flash
and smoke/mist trail appear on the video. However,
the NTSB still maintains that the vertical tail separated almost 8
seconds earlier at 9:15:58.5 (the time of the loud bang). They
have stated to U.S.Read that both engines departed the airplane at or
around 9:16:01.20, five seconds before
the flash and smoke/mist trail, and five seconds before the aircraft
about when the engines separated
In regard to the
"flash" and smoke/mist trail, Bob Benzon (the
NTSB's Lead Investigator for FL587) said the following in his
opening statement at the Hearings: "The
staff believes that this could
be misting fuel, smoke, or even flame that spread from the airplane
after the engines broke away from the wing."
If this is so, why does the flash and smoke/mist trail not
begin until five seconds after the engines separated? Absent
other clues, wouldn't it be more reasonable to assume that as soon
the engines were breaking off the flash and smoke/mist
trail would appear on the video?
If the engines departed later than 9:16:01, perhaps around the time of
the flash on the video at 9:16:06, then the NTSB must answer
the question: Why did the DFDR stop
recording all flight data at
There is no DFDR evidence that the engines
separated at 9:16:01 –– as the DFDR was still powered (by the engines)
for several seconds beyond the point where it had lost the entire data
stream. Neither the NTSB or any investigator that we interviewed,
has provided anything remotely approaching an explanation for the DFDR
data ending 13 seconds before impact. We'll deal with this issue,
the premature cessation of all
DFDR data, later in our multi-part report.
It appears the NTSB's conclusions of
how and when FL587 broke apart have
not been reconciled with the tollbooth video.
"That Can't Be"
Based on their
conclusions about the video, the NTSB's position is that FL587 lost its
tail and two engines and
flew level (did not lose altitude) and
did not produce a flash or smoke/mist trail for up to 8 seconds.
Investigator who was not aware of these issues until we presented them
to him responded, "that can't be"
But according to the NTSB, that is
One theory that can explain why FL587 did not lose altitude prior
to 9:16:06 or produce a smoke/mist trail is that the tail and engines
were still attached, contrary
to what the NTSB has concluded.
Additionally, our conclusion that the aircraft's in-flight breakup
(including the tail) occurred later than the NTSB claims is consistent
with the video evidence and all
the physical evidence –– including the eyewitnesses.
Items of Interest
There are a several
items of interest from the copy of the tollbooth video
we received from the NTSB. The last version of the video we
received from them was not compressed (as earlier ones were –– although
this last tape was analog).
This provided a noticeable quality gain compared with the previous
"mpeg" version we had received. This is important as it means the copy
we examined does not have "compression artifacts", although there is
still some overall quality loss due to the analog copy process.
1. NTSB has
misidentified the start time of the video
The NTSB stated that
was visible in the video from 9:15:54 a.m. and onward. This is
incorrect by at least 4 seconds
–– a large error for a video clip
that lasts only 19 seconds. The aircraft appears in the
video at ATC (Air Traffic Control) time 9:15:50
(based on the "pole 2" timing marker the NTSB identified). This
is a notable error because 9:15:51 is the moment when the pilot began
his aggressive control inputs. Unfortunately, many of these early
frames of the video are heavily distorted (see Figure 5).
5 - Distorted
portion of the tape
and a portion the NTSB does not have - this is one of the few
from the first second or two of the tape
There should not be any distortion
at that point in the
because the FBI confiscated over 6 hours of original video (on one
tape) from the
tollbooth facility both before and after FL587 flew by. The
distortion seems to be a result of the FBI creating a short
version of the original tape for the NTSB. The FBI should have
been more meticulous and thorough in their preparation of the video for
the NTSB. Unfortunately, the NTSB didn't complain about receiving
this shortened, distorted segment of the video. They also didn't
complain about receiving a copy from the FBI, instead of the original
missing slice of video
It is evident in
viewing the video that several seconds of the flight
before 9:15:50 should be available on the original
video, yet the
NTSB does not have this portion of the video (see Figure 5 above –– the
white highlighted box shows a portion of FL587's flight –– at least a
few seconds –– that is missing from the tape).
The NTSB either
never noted these issues or was indifferent. They never indicated
(in two years of email exchanges with us on issues related to the
video) that they
were pursuing acquisition of the original video from the FBI.
trailing behind the aircraft?
There is at least
one portion of the video (in the Lane 1 view) that
appears to show a trail behind the aircraft while it is ascending,
during the time of the pilot's
aggressive control inputs. An accident video analyst who examined
the tollbooth video for U.S.Read had this to say about this apparent
this frame it
does appear that there is something trailing behind
the aircraft ... at approximately a negative 19-degree angle with
respect to the average horizon line of the earth and the
aircraft. The aircraft appears to be traveling in a horizontal
path parallel to the average horizon line of the earth."
6 - streak behind the aircraft?
(in Figure 6 we adjusted the color
to attempt to better isolate the aircraft and the distortion trailing
it –– we did not "enhance" the distortion whatsoever –– our adjustment
affected the entire picture)
A split second
later, this portion of video shows another interesting
event. The analyst stated:
to show the aircraft coming out from behind either
smoke or debris" (see Figures 7 and 8).
7 - the aircraft obscured
Figure 8 - aircraft emerging from
A video forensics
specialist contacted by U.S.Read also noted that
something is happening at this point on the tape (Figures 6 - 8).
But given that
our examination was based on an analog copy of the NTSB's analog copy,
he could not speculate if the event was an artifact due to
the copy process or an actual event associated with the aircraft.
He also added that any conclusions (as to what is or isn't there) made
from these copies of the videos are not reliable. The original
video must be examined before any conclusions can be reached.
With this qualification in mind, the trail behind FL587 occurs
approximately three seconds before
the time the NTSB states the
tail separated. Thus, even if the NTSB's assumed time of tail
separation is correct, the copy of the video suggests
something may have
U.S.Read is not declaring
that we have found
of a fire or explosion prior to tail separation. However, we can
say that the copy of the video we received from the NTSB suggests
trailing the aircraft. Therefore,
the original video
examined using the best tools in
, before any conclusions can be reached. Yet the NTSB has concluded that there is
nothing notable on the tape –– and they have not examined the original.
Why would the NTSB
be satisfied doing an intense examination on
a second or third generation analog copy of the original video?
If they were intent on a serious investigation of the video, logic
would dictate that they would settle for nothing less than the
original. Since they did not feel compelled to acquire the
original video from the FBI, we are left wondering as to the
seriousness of their video analysis.
Didn't they notice the
"trail" at this point in the video? Were they even looking for
these types of anomalies? U.S.Read made the NTSB aware of this
and other issues related to the video –– and the NTSB did not respond.
We are interested in
this portion of the video, and in this possible
"trail" emerging from FL587, because FL587 was already experiencing
electrical anomalies with their radio communications and the Cockpit
Voice Recorder (CVR). In addition, witness John Power (among
others), who observed FL587 during the time of the pilot's aggressive
control inputs (before the tail separated), stated:
see smoke coming
from his right wing ... and I see fire coming from
his right wing."
4. When did the tail
The NTSB stated at
the 2002 Hearings that although they believe the
tail separation occurred in the Lane 1 view of the video (at the time
of the loud bang on the CVR at 9:15:58.5 a.m.), no such event
was noted on the video. Our examination
of the video leads us to suspect that tail separation occurred during
the Lane 5 view –– after the "flash" and smoke/mist trail at 9:16:06
for this conclusion comes from:
a. the fact
aircraft begins losing altitude only after 9:16:06.
b. the cockpit
warning system (ECAM) which indicates major structural
and systems failures occurred after
c. the radar
data which shows more airborne debris after
eyewitnesses –– who stated the tail departed at this
point in the Bay.
the fact there is no
significant smoke/mist trail in the Lane 1 view of the video.
visible in the lane 5 view?
Our analysis of the
video indicates the Lane 5 view of the
tollbooth video needs to be carefully scrutinized as it appears
debris may be visible descending into the Bay from the large smoke/mist
released by FL587. One item is of particular interest (see
Figures 9 and 9.1):
9 - possible debris in the lane 5
view? Seen at video time 9:16:56 frame 24.
Figure 9.1 - enlargement of Figure 9
with brightness/contrast adjustments
continuing to analyze this section of the video. If
this is debris from FL587, it
can only be the tail or rudder because if any debris would be visible
on the video (given its poor quality) the tail/rudder would
have to be it, given they were the largest piece(s) that fell into the
Bay. This would contradict the NTSB's timeline, and would
support the conclusion that tail separation was
not the cause of the crash. But again we come back to the same
issues –– didn't the NTSB notice
these specks on the video? Didn't they at least want to be
certain about their conclusions and ask the FBI for the original
Why the half-hearted
The original video
is still in the possession of the FBI. The NTSB has
never received it, much less asked for it. U.S.Read filed a
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the FBI in May 2003 for
a digital-uncompressed copy of the
original video, but our first request was denied with the reason given
that its release might interfere with "enforcement
proceedings". We filed an appeal in November 2003 and are
awaiting a reply.
It is difficult to understand why the NTSB would accept anything less
than the original of the
only video documenting the most critical moments of the flight.
An expert analysis of the original video might yield important
clues. It is unprecedented to have any
kind of images, much less
a video, of an aircraft crash as it is unfolding –– this is why we
there should be an unprecedented
effort to analyze it.
If the NTSB deferred the most painstaking video analysis to the FBI,
then why didn't the FBI produce a report? Or why didn't the NTSB
make available the details of the FBI's analysis? The NTSB told
U.S.Read that the FBI was "consulted" in the analysis of the
video. What does that mean?
In August 2003, almost two years after the crash, U.S.Read asked the
you know why the FBI is holding on to
the original tollbooth
video and why the NTSB never worked from the original?"
The NTSB reply was:
for the FBI. We felt the version we had was
sufficient for our needs."
One NTSB Board Member, speaking to a FL587 family
member, stated that the NTSB had their best people looking at the
video "pixel by pixel" for several months.
We cannot understand why the NTSB would put such immense
effort into examining a second or third generation VHS copy.
A source within the investigation told U.S.Read that the NTSB did not
form a video study group with the parties to the investigation, as they
do with other areas of an investigation (the "Structures
Group", for example).
In June of 2002, several months after the crash, the NTSB told the
parties to the investigation that the video showed nothing of value,
and they were shown a few still pictures from the video. That was
the extent of what the NTSB disclosed to the parties. The NTSB
did not even provide enlarged pictures of critical
Why won't the FBI release a digital uncompressed copy of the original
tape to the public or to the families of the victims? One family
member told U.S.Read her lawyers failed in their effort to
acquire the tape from the FBI. Why?
Why did the FBI not provide the
footage of flights preceding FL587 on the same flight path? This
would allow the NTSB to compare those normal flights to
FL587 and be able to gauge what looks normal, and what does not.
Why didn't the NTSB see the usefulness of this?
Most importantly, why didn't the NTSB
demand the original video tape
in November 2001?
In addition to the tollbooth video, the radar data
also does not
reconcile with the NTSB's conclusions about when and where the tail
separated, and where over the Bay the major breakup of the aircraft
occurred. We cover this in Part 5 of our
Late Breaking Info
was recently informed (after we had
completed this part of our report) that diligent efforts by
certain individuals close to the NTSB investigation had succeeded in
the FBI to release the
original tollbooth video to the NTSB (however, the NTSB has not
this report). U.S.Read raised this issue
in 2002 and 2003 through many communications with the NTSB and the
parties to the investigation.
No party outside
the FBI and NTSB has yet to see the original video. U.S.Read has
filed a new FOIA request with the NTSB for a digital-uncompressed
copy of the original video.
2. On August 16th we received a letter from the FBI denying our
FOIA appeal for a
digital-uncompressed copy of the video. Their reason was that the
enforcement purposes, the
release of which could reasonably be expected to interfere with
This was the same reason the FBI used in
their original denial.
3. On August 17th we spoke with a Department of Justice (DOJ)
attorney who worked on our FOIA appeal. We were informed:
is an ongoing
FBI investigation that would be complicated by the release of this
video –– we can't comment any further on the
investigation or proceeding."
We informed the attorney (as we had in our appeal letter) that the NTSB
was the lead agency, and that this was an "accident" investigation, not
a criminal investigation. He acknowledged that he was aware of
the NTSB's position. He repeated that the FBI has an "ongoing
investigation". We cannot reconcile these FBI statements with
NTSB's conclusions about the crash.
We reminded the attorney (as we had mentioned in our appeal letter)
that "the NTSB had already released a lower quality version of the
tape. How could a higher quality release by the FBI do any
harm?" The reply was:
FBI acquired the original video from
the tollbooth facility via subpoena –– the NTSB was not authorized to
release the video and should not have
We left a message with FBI Public Affairs in New York today, informing
them that the DOJ's statements give the impression there is an open and
active FBI criminal investigation in regards to FL587. We asked
for clarification and will update this space if we receive it.
After months of inquiry, U.S.Read
finally received today from the NTSB a report offering some new details
on the status of the original tollbooth videos (this report was on a
docket CD dated 11/22/04). This NTSB report (available here
as a 2.6MB pdf file)
, dated October 7, 2004, reveals for the first
time that the NTSB acquired the original videotapes in late May 2004
and that the originals do indeed provide a noticeably higher quality
image, and more footage, of AA 587 in flight.
The NTSB does not identify what new tests they conducted on the
original tapes in an effort to identify when debris began departing the
aircraft. It is evident they did not convene a Study Group
nor did they solicit the help of outside specialists to enhance and
study the video images further.
U.S.Read is still waiting on the NTSB to deliver to us (under a Freedom
of Information Act request) a digital uncompressed copy of the original
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