U.S.Read's Flight 587 Preliminary Report

Executive Summary

by Brett Hoffstadt and Victor Trombettas

This summary, and our full report, is the result of thousands of hours of research and analysis by U.S.Read and dozens of aviation experts.  Among them are former NTSB Investigators, current and former airline crash investigators, current and former crash investigators with the U.S. Military, retired airline captains, recording systems specialists, and Airbus A300 experts.  Notwithstanding, U.S.Read's work is not an investigation. Our access to information is limited, and we have no access to the aircraft debris.  U.S.Read's strengths lie in its ability to consider all of the available evidence, especially evidence that the NTSB ignored or misinterpreted, and our ability to uncover new evidence, such as the powerful clues from the Air Traffic Control (ATC) tapes.

Our analysis included these areas:

• the NTSB Factual Reports from the current docket
• the debris field
the Marine Parkway Bridge "tollbooth" videos
the radar data
eyewitness accounts
Electronic Centralized Aircraft Monitor (ECAM) audible alerts (the cockpit warning system)
the Digital Flight Data Recorder (DFDR)
the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) waveforms, transcript, and spectral studies
the FAA ATC tapes.

Brief History of Flight

Flight 587 was an Airbus A300-600, Registration Number N14053.  It took off from JFK International Airport at 9:14:29 a.m. on November 12, 2001 in clear weather conditions.  Onboard were 251 passengers and 9 crewmembers.  At 9:15:51.3, as the plane climbed to 2,000 feet and was over Jamaica Bay, the pilot, First Officer (F.O.) Sten Molin, perhaps in response to what he initially thought was potentially dangerous wake turbulence, began a series of aggressive control inputs while at the same time calling for the emergency "escape" maneuver.  Less than 11 seconds later, at 9:16:01.9, the strained voice of F.O. Molin is heard on ATC saying "losing control." 

The airplane crashed 13 seconds later at 9:16:14.78 with the primary impact in a residential area of Belle Harbor, Queens. The aircraft was airborne for less than 106 seconds. 
All 260 persons onboard and five additional persons on the ground were fatally injured. 

Debris found away from the primary crash site included the vertical tail and rudder (found in Jamaica Bay), both engines (both less than 900 feet from the crash site), and many other pieces of aircraft debris that were never documented by the NTSB, or that they are unaware of. 

NTSB Hypothesis

The NTSB's hypothesis is that the cause of the crash was the tail separating from the fuselage, and that the tail separated because the pilot, as a result of his rudder movements, placed loads on the tail that exceeded it's ultimate limit.  Although the NTSB has not yet released its official statement of cause, these basic conclusions are already fixed and shared by all of the parties to the investigation.

The raging debate between Airbus and American Airlines is––why did the Pilot move the rudder pedals as aggressively as he did?  Is it because he was trained improperly by American Airlines (Airbus' contention), or is it because the rudder pedal system is the most sensitive in the industry (American Airlines' contention)? 

Detailed documentation to backup this summary will be contained in our full report, which will be released in several stand-alone sections. Part 1, "Current NTSB Hypothesis", is included with this summary.

U.S.Read's Preliminary Findings and Probable Cause

This is a summary of our main findings to date and what the evidence suggests was the probable cause of the crash:

1. The pilot was not battling wake turbulence (although he may have thought he was) but the effects of an event inside the aircraft, which occurred at least 8 seconds before the tail separated.

2. The NTSB's Human Performance Group, operating under the assumption that the pilot was reacting to wake turbulence, stated that the turbulence was "barely perceptible", not typical, and entirely inconsistent with the very aggressive series of control inputs by the pilot.  The pilot was using all the controls at his disposal (roll, yaw, and pitch controls) and called for maximum power three times in a span of only 7 seconds.  

3. The vertical tail separation came later in the crash sequence than the NTSB has concluded, and was not the first object to depart the aircraft. Therefore, the vertical tail separation was a consequence, not a cause, of a crash sequence that was already underway and inevitable. This conclusion is supported by the radar data, the ECAM system, the tollbooth video, and the eyewitnesses––all which indicate that the tail, and engines, departed later in the crash sequence.

4. The initiating event was very likely an explosion or fire onboard the aircraft that occurred no later than the time of the 2nd alleged wake encounter––when the pilot began his aggressive control inputs. Dozens of eyewitnesses who saw the tail separate reported an explosion or fire which preceded tail separation.

5. In addition to being visible to witnesses in the Bay and on land, this explosion/fire caused unknown damage to the aircraft structure and led to multiple system failures and electrical anomalies, including the corruption of ATC transmissions; CVR malfunctions; disabling the rudder and some of the spoilers; possibly responsible for the premature interruption of all data flow to the DFDR that occurred 13 seconds before impact; and prematurely disabling the transponder (the device on board that transmits the plane's altitude back to the radar facilities).  All of these events, a direct result of the initiating event, occurred before the aircraft had even begun its descent or lost both engines.

6. Due to the substandard debris collection and documentation by the NTSB, an unprofessional and incomplete examination of the CVR, and other investigative deficiencies, we do not have enough evidence to identify the exact location, source, or cause of the explosion/fire.

7. Many witnesses provide vital clues about the crash sequence, yet the NTSB did not conduct a thorough, intense investigation in this important area, failing to do basic tasks such as line-of-sight measurements with witnesses or even interviewing them at the locations where they observed the aircraft.  In fact, the NTSB had consistently referred to the witnesses as unreliable and released witness statistics in such a manner as to smear their collective reliability.  

8. The FBI is withholding potentially crucial, original, video evidence of the aircraft in flight at the most critical moments, failing to release the video to the NTSB, the families of the victims, or to U.S.Read in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. Surveillance cameras at a tollbooth facility at a nearby bridge captured the video images.  The NTSB felt no need to demand the original and best quality video from the FBI. 

It is the firmly held opinion of U.S.Read that the NTSB failed early on in their investigation as they prematurely declared this crash an accident and then very quickly concluded that tail separation was the initiating event without properly analyzing all the evidence. 

A retired NTSB Senior Air Safety Investigator told U.S.Read:

"In the case of AA 587, the NTSB did not even lay out a wreckage trail diagram.  This is a basic procedure that is performed when any aircraft is shedding parts, like AA 587 was doing. They did not give any credence to the many qualified witnesses who saw AA 587 behaving differently than what the NTSB said it was doing.  To say the NTSB has botched this investigation is an understatement."

Two hundred and sixty-five people died in the crash of FL587.  Whether it is the 2nd worst aviation accident in U.S. history, or the 2nd worst terrorist act on U.S. soil (2nd only to 9-11), the crew of FL587, the victims and their families, and the taxpayers, deserve a far better investigation. 

(Click here to go to Part 1 of the full report)

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