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U.S.Read's Flight 587 Preliminary Report

Part 6:  Eyewitness Accounts

October 17, 2004

by Brett Hoffstadt and Victor Trombettas

NTSB's Ted Lopatkiewicz to the New York Times, June 23, 2002:

"I don't think I'm making any news by saying that eyewitness testimony at a plane crash and probably at many traumatic events is unreliable."

One of the more troubling aspects of the NTSB's investigation has been their view that eyewitnesses are generally unreliable and useless –– even if a large pool of eyewitnesses is providing generally consistent statements.  This view led the NTSB to forego serious investigation of the American Airlines Flight 587 (AA 587) eyewitnesses, and most importantly, eliminated any attempt to reconcile the evidence or probable cause with their statements. The NTSB does not believe there is a high mathematical probability that what the witnesses claim to have seen did indeed occur. 

We are not proposing that individual statements are completely reliable in regards to fine details, but it is the calling of an investigator to comb through all the statements and gleam the common denominators –– the elements that are common to all the statements.  Such elements are indeed present in the large pool of AA 587 eyewitness accounts.  They are a vital and unique source of very useful information.  By completely disregarding this information, the NTSB has compromised their ability to understand the sequence of events. 

The obvious questions are, why does the NTSB bother asking for the public to come forward with accounts and why do they bother collecting this information, if it has no value in an accident investigation?

Do varying accounts mean conflicting accounts?
On November 22, 2003, a missile struck a DHL Airbus A300 shortly after takeoff from the Baghdad International Airport.  Video of the attack and the stricken aircraft were made available on the Internet.  The images of the stricken aircraft can shed light on how it is possible for witnesses to offer different accounts of the same event, since even pictures and video can offer differing accounts.

Figure 1 below shows the aircraft after it has been struck and the outboard section of the port (left) side wing set on fire.  The aircraft is making its descent back to the airport.  For some reason, the fire is not visible in many frames of the video, including Figure 1.  But the aircraft was indeed on fire as Figure 2, a frame from the same portion of video, shows us. Figures 3 and 4 give us an entirely different view of the same aircraft and provide a much clearer view of the fire and its location.

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4

We learn a few things from the DHL event:
We find Figure 2 fascinating in that it appears, from that viewing angle, that the fire is coming from the belly of the fuselage. We can theorize, based on these four images, that we might find the following variance amongst witnesses who may have seen the DHL aircraft after it was attacked:
The NTSB was faced with a similar variance of statements from the AA 587 witnesses.  Instead of approaching the witnesses with the same patience and methodical study as they did when they deciphered the bits of data (the ones and zeros) from the flight data recorder –– the NTSB decided, in June of 2002, to issue a press release that used the varying accounts as a way to discredit the entire pool of witnesses. 

Critical clues ignored
U.S.Read's analysis of the eyewitness statements, along with interviews with many of them, lead us to the conclusion the NTSB lost out on vital clues that could have enhanced their interpretations of the physical evidence. Had they investigated the most important of the eyewitnesses –– those who saw the airplane before it began its nosedive (while it was still in a level attitude) –– the NTSB would have interpreted the flight recorders differently. They would have interpreted them correctly.

If you have followed U.S.Read's coverage from the time of the crash, you know that we were particularly concerned by several eyewitness accounts of the aircraft exploding, or on fire, while it was in a level attitude –– before the tail separated.

Retired Firefighter Tom Lynch, a witness who saw the aircraft explode while it was level and before the tail separated, had met more than two dozen of his neighbors who also saw the aircraft explode/or on fire while it was level.  Mr. Lynch, greatly disturbed by the NTSB's public statements that there were no indications of any in-flight fire or explosion, organized a small group of these witnesses in January 2002. They sent a letter of petition to the NTSB requesting that they have the opportunity to testify at the Hearings.  Their request was denied.  This modest group of eyewitnesses included retired NYPD Police Lieutenant James Conrad and FDNY Deputy Fire Chief Peter Hayden. 

When the NTSB released the full database of eyewitness statements to the public in October 2002, we learned that there were at least 70 people (and perhaps more) who had seen the aircraft explode/on fire, while it was level.

U.S.Read has determined that at least 43 eyewitnesses saw the tail separate.  Thirty-nine of those 43 reported unusual events prior to tail separation –– loud, unusual sounds, bangs, booms, pops, the engines very loud (at max power) or fires and explosions. 

As far as we know, the NTSB interviewed not a single eyewitness in a scientific manner.  The NTSB never met with any eyewitness at the location where that eyewitness was when they witnessed the crash.  The NTSB did not take line-of-sight measurements.  They did not try to triangulate a location in the sky where notable events were witnessed and then compare that to the other evidence.  They didn't even conduct on-site interviews of the recreational boaters who were the first to recover debris in Jamaica Bay –– had they done so they would have easily determined that the tail separated later in the crash sequence just before the plane crossed over the seawall. 

The NTSB, and experts who believe that witnesses are a waste of time, will say that since AA 587 had usable Digital Flight Data Recorder (DFDR) and Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) information, the imperfect accounts of eyewitnesses are unnecessary. 

That might be true if the FDR and CVR were perfect recorders; but they are not.  To provide appropriate context for this claim, please allow for a brief digression.

DFDR and CVR - also imperfect and limited witnesses
The DFDR on AA 587 recorded some parameters as infrequently as once per second.  Some critical readings such as the rudder position were only recorded twice a second –– and that was after having been averaged or filtered.  It is also not difficult to imagine some malfunction, such as a fire or explosion, which might go undetected initially by the DFDR. Aviation experts contributing to U.S.Read suggest this is a possibility.  A fire in an area not close to a smoke detector, for instance, would not be recorded on the DFDR –– not until the fire grew and the smoke spread. 

Also, information within the DFDR can have multiple explanations or interpretations.  For example, the rudder data "going to zero" in the DFDR could mean the tail had departed the airplane as the NTSB assumed.  Or, it could mean that there was a hydraulics malfunction in the rear of the plane with a resulting loss of all hydraulic pressure (zero pressure), or the control or position sensor cables were damaged, etc.  There is more than one possible interpretation for the rudder data "going to zero". 

As for the CVR, there is clear evidence that the CVR on AA 587 malfunctioned on several occasions (due to electrical disruptions on board) especially during those critical moments when Pilot Sten Molin was beginning his aggressive control inputs (see our Open Letter to the NTSB).  We know this both from the NTSB's Sound Spectrum Study and from Mr. Molin's Air Traffic Control (ATC) transmissions which were not recorded by the CVR (but were heard and recorded on ATC frequencies). 

It's fair to say, then, that these recorders are imperfect.  Therefore, they are not completely reliable.  And that puts these recorders in a similar category as the eyewitness –– potentially very useful, but imperfect. 

The witnesses cannot be ignored –– as the flight recorders cannot be ignored.  And despite what the NTSB says about how they handled the eyewitness statements, the reality is –– the NTSB ignored them.

Twenty seven witnesses –– in their own words
The selection of witness statements below is taken directly from the NTSB's public docket.  In some cases, the witnesses also submitted illustrations of what they saw and those pictures are included here as well.

Comments inserted in [square brackets] and (parentheses) are from U.S.Read unless otherwise noted.  Some of those comments contain information gained from the dozens of interviews conducted by U.S.Read.

Witness #9 (as numbered in the NTSB docket), Susan A.: "...[she] was in a position to observe the airplane's right side . . . then saw an explosion just in front of the airplane's tail and well behind the aircraft's wings. The explosion observed by [her] was a "ball of fire" that appeared to originate inside the airplane and expand outward. . . these flames were red, orange, and grey. . . the ball of fire appeared to engulf the entire height and width of the airplane; and that the ball of fire continued to travel with the airplane  . . . The ball of fire continually emitted charcoal-grey smoke . . . [She] also saw pieces of debris spray out of the airplane from the same spot . . . At the same moment the ball of fire emerged from the airplane, the tail piece of the airplane fell away from the rest of the aircraft . . . it fell off quickly, as if from the force of the explosion just ahead of it."

Witness 14, Mr. Terry Auclair (In a boat with witness 38):  " . . . he was fishing in Jamaica Bay . . . when he heard a loud pop from the sky.  [He] stated that he looked up in the sky and witnessed a plane on fire, and appeared to have some debris break off and hit the tail section, which subsequently (the tail) separated from the airplane."

Witness 38, Kenny Brown (in a boat with witness 14): " . . . pieces from around the middle of the plane were flying back towards the tail . . . Now at the same time the plane started to drop the right wing showing us the belly where I observed smoke (around the middle between the wings and engines) at this same instant I saw the pieces that were coming off the plane hitting the tail which at that point the tail tore off . . . From the time I seen [sic] the plane till the time it crashed I never lost sight of it."

Witnesses 14 and 38, also interviewed by U.S.Read, were so close to the final flight path that debris from AA 587 was falling all around them.  They were the first boat on the scene and recovered pieces of the aircraft including rudder pieces.  Terry told U.S.Read that some non-composite debris did not float but sank to the Bay floor.  We know from the NYPD Harbor Unit that a detailed search of the Bay floor for debris was not done and the NTSB has never produced any document identifying if any pieces were recovered from the Bay floor. 

Witness 18, Robert B. (an active duty NYPD Officer at the time, was in a boat with witness 321): "he was fishing in a small boat [in the Bay] . . . he saw pieces of the plane falling to the water . . . he saw a very small fire on the right wing close to the fuselage . . . he saw a long white object fall from the rear section of the plane." (The witness told U.S.Read he thinks this could have been the tail or pieces of the rudder but is certain that the tail was attached when he and his two buddies saw the plane level, and on fire.  He was an active duty NYPD officer at the time who feels the investigators had no respect for their statements).

Witness 321, Charlie V. (in a boat with witness 18):  "I was fishing with two friends on a 16 foot boat in Jamaica Bay . . . I looked up toward the west and saw a jet plane with its left wing on fire.  The jet was flying toward the south.  The plane seemed to be flying normally with the exception of the fire.  I said to my friends 'Wow! That plane's in trouble.' . . . At that point the aircraft seemed to be attempting to turn left or back toward the east in the direction of Kennedy Airport.  Just as the plane was beginning to turn, something fell off the aircraft at the rear . . . "

U.S.Read interviewed witnesses 18, and 321 who were in the same boat.  Their statements were consistent.  The plane was on fire before tail separation. 

Witness 54, Joanne Catanese, retired NYPD Officer: "I observed an airplane that was flying south towards the ocean –– the left side of the plane, from the left wing to the tail, exploded, which caused the aircraft to bank left and spiral down to the earth. There were flames coming from the aircraft after the explosion. I vaguely remember seeing something falling away from the aircraft towards the north, but I cannot describe what it was. When the explosion occurred, it seemed like the airplane stood still for a moment before it banked to the left and plummeted to the ground."

U.S.Read has interviewed Joanne and her account of a piece flying off the airplane is similar to that of Witness 253, John Power, who also described a piece fly off to the north.

Joanne and John were both at least two miles from Flight 587.  For them to see a piece of the aircraft come off –– that piece must have been large.  That piece in all likelihood is the tail.  It's evident from both their statements the aircraft was on fire or exploded before that large piece separated. 

Witness 60 (only one block from the crash site):  "We heard a loud roar from a plain [sic] engine such as the SST [Concorde] . . . I looked up and saw a plain [sic] coming at us from the north sky . . . I saw flames and dark grey smoke coming from the left side wing next to the plane body . . . Than [sic] I saw a part break away from the plane and flip like a playing card to the right of the plane with the letter (A) on it" (see Figure 5).

Figure 5 - Witness 60's drawing

Witness 63 (from FBI report): "witness was at 141st and Newport Avenue (10 blocks west of the crash site). Was outside his car when he heard a plane and looked up over his head. Saw a plane flying low between 500 - 1000 feet  . . . and coming in at a slight angle (In the NYPD report, the witness stated he looked at the plane because he heard what sounded like the Concorde –– this in all likelihood means the aircraft had gone to max power.  According to the NTSB, the crew didn't go to max power until after the tail had come off). The witness saw the left wing dip down and the saw a large piece of the tail fly off the plane –– [this piece] flew toward the direction of the Bay". 

This witness did not see an explosion but what is important about their statement is that he observes the aircraft after it has gone to max power, it is lower than usual, yet the tail was still attached. 

Witness 72, John D.:  "As he turned the corner (in his car), he continued to look out his window at the airplane.  There was no fire or smoke, but the airplane was definitely making a loud noise.  He saw the airplane nosing toward the ground.  He then heard a pop, like an electrical line popping, then an explosion.  Right after the explosion, the airplane seemed to veer towards the right, at a 3/4 degree to nose down attitude.  He did not see any flames shooting from the bottom of the airplane during the explosion.  He saw a puff of white smoke about where the left engine should be located.  Then he saw the tail of the airplane blown off.  He saw the letters AA on the tail as it feathered into the water.  He saw debris in the air.  He saw in quick succession, one of the two engines completely on fire sailing past the left of his car, and then the other engine fail."

Witness 97, Angela F.: " . . . it was when I looked back the second time was when I saw the explosion.  There was a huge orange (orange-red) fireball that was located where the front of the right wing where it meets the body of the plane . . . In shock, I watched the fireball turn into a ball of gray-black smoke . . . I see what I thought was the outer half of the right wing falling straight down . . . To my amazement the plane continued to fly south (towards the ocean) still flying straight and level . . . I can say the plane was completely intact prior to the explosion."  (She also told interviewers that the outer half of the right wing may have been the tail –– she was certain that a large wing-like object separated from the plane after the explosion; this was in all likelihood the tail as no large sections of either wing were found in the Bay and in the inboard sections of both wings were found at the crash site). 

Figure 6 - Witness 97's drawing

Witness 100, an active Nassau County Police Officer: "I was on patrol in Nassau County Police Dept. Marine Bureau . . . I noticed a large jet flying west to slightly south west which appeared to have a large fire at midsection of fuselage centerline of rear left wing . . . Then the plane started to go into a left bank turn the fuselage fire was clearly visible.  I was an aircraft mechanic for 5 years . . . We were approx. 4 miles away which we later clarified using the charts and had no obstructions in the way of our vision . . . Prior to contacting the ground a large piece separated from the plane."  From the FBI interview: "[He] said he watched the plane for about fifteen seconds and then said, 'They did it again'."

Witness 100 told U.S.Read the fire was visible before the tail separated. The large piece he saw separate not long before impact could only be the tail as it is highly improbable he could see any other small debris separating at a distance of 4 miles. 

Witness 101 (from NYPD and FBI interviews): "the middle of the body was on fire - it stalled and started to nosedive - as it fell we could see the tail detach."

U.S.Read note: Witnesses 112 and 113 below are unique as they appear to be the only witnesses who saw Flight 587 fly over them as they were sitting in their car in a bird sanctuary in the middle of Jamaica Bay:

Witness 112 (in her minivan with her husband, witness 113): "[She was] watching the airplanes pass overhead as they [the planes] flew out of JFK.  [She] was watching one plane fly away from her direction when suddenly flames shot out from the right side of the airplane near where the wing is attached to the cabin.  [She] noted that the plane was approximately two miles away.  After the flames shot out from the right side of the plane it began to slowly turn to the left facing the bay away from land.  [She] then saw something fall off the back of the airplane."

Witness 113 (he is the husband of Witness 112):  "After hearing his wife gasp he looked out  . . . and noticed an airplane flying away from his vehicle  . . .  approximately a mile and half or two miles away  . . . [he] saw a ball of flame shoot out from the right side of the airplane.  [He] believed the flames shot out from somewhere behind the cockpit just in front of the starboard wing.  The plane then slowly turned to the left facing the bay.  [He] then observed something fall off of the back of the plane."

Witness 117, Ed G. (with witness 344):  "I work at Floyd Bennet Field.  The morning of the crash, my partner and I were making our rounds, as we turned towards the Bay we could see a plane ascending, at that moment we saw an explosion behind the wing (right side) near bottom.  It looked like a section of the cargo or luggage bay fell out immediately in the Bay."

Witness 344, Andre W. (with witness 117):  " [He] states he was looking out over the water watching an airliner take off.  [He] states he saw a bright flash and heard a popping sound.  The flash was an explosion on the fuselage of the aircraft between the wings and tail.  The explosion caused the tail section of the airplane to separate from the plane as the luggage fell out of the aircraft into the water . . . the tail broke off the plane turned on it's (sic) side with no flame or visible damage to the remainder of the plane.  At this point the plane continued to lose it's [sic] luggage and then crashed into the ground causing a large black plume of smoke."

Witnesses 117 and 344, also interviewed by U.S.Read, had a unique view of Flight 587 as they were directly west of the flight path and had a clear view of the starboard (right) side of the aircraft from their location at Floyd Bennet Field.  Both men told U.S.Read they thought a very large object from inside the aircraft fell out and fell quickly straight down to the Bay; whatever it was they said it did not flutter down (as we know from other witnesses is how the tail descended).  Both men were convinced this object was not the tail. 

Witness 140, Mike (with witness 283 in a boat in the Bay west of the flight path –– near Floyd Bennet Field): From the FBI's notes: "[He] was fishing . . . on his boat in Jamaica Bay . . . [He] heard a blast which sounded like an explosion and thought it may have been the SST Concord jet taking off . . . When he looked up, he saw an airplane on fire.  He saw smoke and dark orange flames."  From the NTSB's notes: "He saw an engine fall off the airplane and then saw the tail fall off.  Many pieces of paper were falling also." 

When interviewed by U.S.Read, witness 140 told U.S.Read he is certain the aircraft had a fire before the tail fell off –– the only reason he fixed his gaze on AA 587 was because of the fire.
Witness 283, Robert (with witness 140 in a boat): " . . . he was on a fishing boat with two other men in Jamaica Bay . . . [He] heard an explosion.  He then looked in the direction of the explosion and saw the tail of [the] aircraft fall off.  He saw flames originating at the tail of the aircraft shoot through the aircraft.  The aircraft continued to fly briefly then twisted and went straight down."

Interviewed by U.S.Read, witness 283 stated that along with witness 140, he heard an explosion that made him look at the aircraft.  When he spotted the aircraft, it was already on fire and the tail departed after he heard the explosion and noticed the fire. 

Witness 172 ("he was working with 2 co-workers, on the beach boardwalk lampposts located between 122nd and 123rd Streets"):  He stated it is common to hear planes fly above him at this location; however, he was facing west and noticed a plane flying quite low, slightly to the north.  He looked down and heard a loud "POOF", like backfire and looked up.  He saw the engine fall off the plane and hit the tail where he saw the American Airlines (AA) logo.  He said, "oh no, not another AA plane".  He saw smoke billowing, the plane fly through the smoke and the engine fall."

Witness 185. Retired Firefighter Tom Lynch:  "In my line of view a plane just finishing its banked turn and heading east to head out over the ocean . . . my eyes filled with horror . . . an orange red explosion in the fuselage of the aircraft behind or near the aft part of the wing, flowed [sic] by a larger second burst or [sic] flames . . . Oh S*** Oh S*** they did it again".

Mr. Lynch told the FBI on the day of the crash that he saw something large (he believes it was the tail) separate after the explosions.  Just hours after the crash, Mr. Lynch identified himself as a firefighter to a local AM Radio program and specifically stated that only after the explosions did the aircraft begin breaking apart.

Witness 196, with her husband, residing at 536 Beach 126th street –– just 6 blocks from the crash site and under the final flight path (From NYPD and NTSB interviews): "she was sitting at the kitchen table when she heard what she knew to be a low flying airplane with an unexplainable noise.  Her husband, an aircraft mechanic at JFK, said that he distinctively heard an engine compressor stall.  She looked out her kitchen window that faces north-east, overlooking Jamaica Bay, and saw an American Airlines jet flying lower than normal. At that moment she observed the tail blow off along with numerous unidentifiable smaller pieces.  The tail traveled up for a moment and began to fall in a spinning motion toward the water.

There are three very important elements about witness 196's statement:

(1) The plane was lower than normal and,
(2) The plane was making unusual sounds which her husband, an aircraft mechanic, identified to the NYPD as "prolonged" compressor stalls.
(3) The tail came off after items 1 and 2 were observed.

U.S.Read believes the engine compressor stalls were a result of the out of control flight (which included some brief, yet violent spins or rolls) that had taken place immediately after the Flight Data Recorder lost all data.  A few seconds after that loss of control –– the aircraft stopped spinning, stalled, and started a slow descent in a nose-up or mostly level attitude.  The tail was still attached for part of this descent, as were both engines.  This part of the descent is evident on the tollbooth video and the aircraft is clearly in a level attitude in the video; it has not yet pitched down (Figure 7). 

Figure 7

There is no evidence that the engine stalls were a contributing factor, or that the engines stalled prior to the time the NTSB believes the tail departed (at 9:15:58.5 –– the time of the loud bang).
Witness 196's statement along with her husband's provide powerful testimony that AA 587 was in serious trouble before the tail departed, and that the tail departed later in the crash sequence. 

Witness 253, John Power:  For the sake of brevity we will not include John's account here except to say that we believe John to be a critical witness as we are convinced he first observes the aircraft during the Pilot's aggressive control inputs (before the NTSB believes the tail departed).  John's statement is that the tail was still attached when the aircraft flew out of control, and didn't depart until later in the sequence. Our November 21, 2001 videotaped interview with John is available here.

Witness 259:  "He heard a muffled 'boom.'  He looked up and observed the accident airplane, noting that the engines sounded louder than normal, more like the Concorde.  He observed a little puff of 'smoke' near the tail, and then observed that the vertical tail dropped off.  After the fin separated he saw half a dozen pieces of material fall of the airplane as it continued to fly.  The airplane banked to the left, while the engines were still roaring . . .  [He] had aviation experience as a Navy Aviation Ordinance man.  At that time, his duties then included observing inbound aircraft for configuration and hung ordinance [weapons]".

Witness 272: "My wife and I were located at JFK Terminal 9, Concourse D . . . When I first spotted the aircraft on the horizon it was falling nose first . . . after the impact, we did witness parts falling from above the crash site.  I saw two sizable pieces falling at a similar rate of speed.  While I could not make out what they were, they were large enough to be see [sic] from our location some 2 miles or further away . . . my wife and I both witnessed a white cloud of smoke from where the aircraft had fallen.  The parts we witnessed falling also originated from this white cloud of smoke." 

Figure 8 - Witness 272's drawing

When considering the distance this witness was from the crash site and the likelihood the white cloud of smoke is the same white cloud of smoke as seen on the tollbooth video, the two sizable pieces this witness is referring to are in all likelihood the tail and one of the larger pieces of the rudder.  The large cloud of smoke seen on the tollbooth video emerges from the aircraft at 9:16:06.2; almost 8 seconds after the NTSB says the tail separated (see Figure 9).

Figure 9 - Image from Tollbooth Video providing strong similarity to Witness 272's drawing
(U.S.Read mirrored / flipped horizontally Figure 9 from the tollbooth video.  We did so to present what those images would look like to someone viewing the flight from the east –– as was the case with witness 272.  The tollbooth camera was west of the flight path)

This witness report, the tollbooth video, and the radar data, all suggest –– that the most significant breakup of Flight 587 (including the tail) occurred several seconds after the NTSB stated time.

Witness 346:  "[He] heard a loud pop.  [He] said the pop sounded like a cap gun shot.  [His] attention was drawn to the sky.  [He] observed an American Airlines aircraft in the sky.  [He] advised that he observed the port-side [left] engine on fire.  [He] also observed the tail-fin of the aircraft separate from the plane.

NTSB's conclusions –– not supported by the evidence
These compelling statements leave the reader with the clear impression that the tail separating from AA 587 was a consequence of some other series of events.  What is also clear is that a fire and/or explosion was visible to many before tail separation. 

The NTSB's ability to discredit all these people and fail to see the powerful clues they offer has been a very disturbing aspect of this investigation. 

If our justice system has enough faith in people's sense of sight and sound to convict and even execute people based on the testimony of a single eyewitness, why does the NTSB ignore such compelling evidence when it comes not from one witness, but dozens? 

Additional compelling witness statements could have been included but it was decided to publish only those who could provide some clues about when the tail separated.

For instance, we did not include Michael Benjamin (witness # 23), as he could not make any statement about the tail.  But what he saw is still gripping.  He witnessed AA 587 in seemingly normal flight (along with 3 of his family members) but for the fact that there was a "roaring fire" on the right side. 

Retired NYPD Officer, Jim Conrad (witness 62), saw AA 587 spew out smoke, followed by an explosion, with the back half of the aircraft enveloped in flames and dark smoke –– before large debris started falling from the aircraft. 

Many witnesses (like Mr. Benjamin and Mr. Conrad) do not recall, or did not see, when the tail (or a "wing" as some referred to it) broke off but they offer convincing statements of an aircraft in a level attitude, flying normally, with the exception of a noticeable fire or explosion. 

It is impossible to reconcile the witness statements with the NTSB's conclusions about AA 587. 

If the other evidence available to investigators –– the debris field, tollbooth video, radar data, CVR, DFDR, cockpit warnings, Air Traffic Control tapes –– were in conflict with the eyewitness statements then the NTSB's conclusions would have a strong foundation.  However, the bulk of evidence corroborates the eyewitness statements –– leaving the NTSB's conclusions on a very dubious foundation.

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