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April 15, 2002
Flight 587 - Timeline v2 With Radar Data - Evidence Mounting Against Wake Turbulence And The Five Rudder Movements As Crash Catalysts
by Victor Trombettas
Exhibit 1 at the end of this article shows the only Air Traffic Control radar data the NTSB has released to date ... data that was released the week of the crash to the Press. They have not updated those numbers since November nor mentioned that some of that data was "erroneous" as they did to me March 25th (I elaborate below). The NTSB stated the following re the seven radar hits they've released (of the 20 available): they "cannot guarantee that these will still be the numbers when the factual reports come out. ... don't know how accurate they are and can assure you they will differ from times from other ATC (Air Traffic Control facilities)." After releasing these numbers to me the NTSB informed me that the last "hit" (at 3019 feet) of the 7 hits they had released, is the "erroneous" one. They did not elaborate much except to state that they trust the altitude data from the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) was accurate and the transponder was transmitting higher values than the plane experienced (the transponder transmits the plane's location and altitude to an interrogating radar). I discuss this in detail within the timeline below. The NTSB has not discussed these radar anomalies in any of their seven Updates.
I'd like to thank the kind folks at Megadata Inc. (http://www.passur.com), for releasing to me all available radar hits for Flight 587 from their PASSUR radar system on March 27th. PASSUR listens into a plane's transponder reply and therefore receives the same radar data as the JFK Radar does. The PASSUR data is in Exhibit 2.
The first edition of the Flight 587 Timeline released by U.S.Read, dated February 25th, is available here.
Here's the latest timeline of Flight 587 (which I'll refer to as version 2) using only publicly released NTSB data, radar data, information culled from FAA audio tapes of cockpit-tower communications, and discussions with American Airlines Airbus A300 Pilots. I have purposely excluded all the compelling witness statements of in-flight fires and explosions. I'm even excluding the statement of Witness Alpha. The explosive flash he (and the folks with him) saw occurs at least 38 seconds before impact. We have mapped him into the flight path and believe it's very possible what he saw occurs around the time of the first lateral movement. This is compelling evidence. Alpha and his friends gave their statements to Federal Investigators the day of the crash. John Power's statement is also equally compelling, because, like Alpha, he observes the plane in distress before the crew proclaims they have lost control. But I want to keep these and other statements out of this timeline for two reasons. (1) It is difficult to insert a witness into the timeline with pinpoint accuracy (and that is the purpose of this timeline) and (2) I want to demonstrate how, using only official information, a profoundly different picture emerges compared with the one most people have seen. This timeline integrates new information not available when I wrote the first timeline article on February 25th and further drives home the point that Flight 587 was in a quickly deteriorating set of circumstances well before the infamous rudder movements and the separation of the vertical stabilizer.
The Timeline v2

Seconds From Liftoff
Time Stamp in MM:SS format
(9 a.m. New York Time)

Description / Comments
   13:29 LC (Local Control): "american five eight seven heavy wind three zero zero at niner runway three one left cleared for takeoff" (Local Control Transcript - LCT). JFK Tower clears AA 587 for takeoff. Tower gives the surface winds as from 300 degrees at nine knots, which is about ten miles per hour. The runway heading for runway 31L is 313 degrees, so the wind is slightly left to right.
   13:33 AAL587: "cleared for takeoff american ah five eight seven heavy" (LCT). AA 587 reads back and acknowledges the takeoff clearance.
   13:47 LC: "american five eight seven heavy" (LCT); plane is rolling
 0 14:34 Wheels are up. Liftoff (PASSUR). Altitude is 100 feet @ 141 knots
 5 14:39 Altitude is 400 feet @ 164 knots
 9 14:43 600 feet @ 160 knots
10 14:44 LC: "american five eight seven heavy turn left fly the bridge climb contact new york departure good morning" (LCT). JFK Tower gives the "bridge climb" and "contact departure" instructions. The tower operator turns his attention to the airplane next in line for takeoff.
14 14:48 800 feet @ 159 knots
15 14:49 AAL587: "american five eighty seven heavy so long". AA 587 acknowledges the clearance. Passed off to JFK Dep. Control. (TRACON).
19 14:53 1000 feet @ 159 knots
23 14:57 1200 feet @ 161 knots
27 15:01 AAL587: "uh new york american five eight seven heavy thirteen hundred feet we're climbing to five thousand". JFK Tower has told AAL587 to contact Departure Control. They do and give their current altitude and target altitude. This helps the controller to crosscheck the transponder altitude readout. The flight path is the predetermined standard departure routing.
28 15:02 1300 feet @ 170 knots
31 15:05 J108 (JFK Departure Control / TRACON): "american five eight seven heavy new york departure radar contact climb and maintain one three thousand". "Radar contact" means that the departure controller has positively identified AA 587 on his radar screen. With this, he clears AA 587 to continue climbing to 13,000 feet. As you may have noted, all numbers are stated to insure clarity, i.e., 13,000 is not enunciated as thirteen thousand, but as one three thousand.
33 15:07 1300 feet @ 179 knots
37 15:11
AAL587: "one three that's for american five eighty seven heavy". AA 587 reads back the new climb altitude. (TRACON)
1400 feet @ 188 knots
42 15:16 1500 feet @ 198 knots
46 15:20 1500 feet @ 218 knots
51 15:25 PASSUR says this transponder reply was corrupted - this could be the first evidence we have to date of trouble on board the plane. PASSUR states they can receive corrupted packets if there is a lot of air traffic. It is also possible that electrical interference on board the plane can be responsible for this. PASSUR says they do not discard packets if they are readable; even if the altitude change is severe. We are still 34 seconds from the start of the rudder movements. As we progress through the timeline ... you will see that from this moment on we are looking at 44% of the transponder replies being deemed "corrupted" or "erroneous". Flight 587 had a total of 20 radar replies from takeoff to it's last reply when the transponder died. For comparison purposes, Japan Air Lines Flight 47 (JAL47) had 41 hits in it's first 184 seconds of flight. Of those 41 hits, JAL47 had zero corrupted hits. Zero "erroneous" hits. Flight 587, which had a much shorter flight and thus half the radar interrogations, had 4 bad replies out of it's last 9. And I'm not even factoring into these calculations the fact that the transponder dies 16 seconds before impact and, in effect, misses 3 more radar replies. This would increase the transponder's fail rate from this moment on to 58%.
55 15:29 1700 feet @ 228 knots
60 15:34 1800 feet @ 230 knots
63 15:37 J108: "american five eighty seven heavy turn left proceed direct wavey". Now Departure Control clears AA 587 to deviate from the standard departure routing, and to "proceed direct wavey." Wavey is a navigation fix far from JFK, but on the long range routing flight plan. One of the pilots inserts this position in the navigation computer. The airplane may or may not be on autopilot at this time. In either case, the navigation computer produces the heading to wavey, and the airplane is turned toward it. The airplane is continuing to climb while this is taking place.
64 15:38 1900 feet @ 240 knots
65 15:39 Flight Data Recorder (FDR) records first lateral (sideways) acceleration averaging about 0.1g ... "consistent with wake vortex" according to the NTSB. Weather data has not been released by NTSB to support the theory that the wake vortices spun off by Japan Air Lines 47 (JAL47), were blown into the path of Flight 587. JAL47 was 90 seconds ahead, 0.7 nautical miles west of AA587 and 500 feet higher. A constant wind speed at that altitude of 28 knots is required in order to push the vortices into 587's path. The only weather data available thus far for that morning indicates winds at 18 knots from 325 degrees at 1900 feet, and 19 knots from 334 degrees at 2800 feet. These winds leave the vortices at least 5 football fields short of Flight 587 (1500 feet).
66 15:40 Airframe rattling noises recorded on the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR)
68 15:42
AAL587: "uh uh turn direct wavey american five eighty seven heavy" (TRACON). AA 587 acknowledges and reads back the clearance. This is the last transmission from AA 587.
69 15:43 2200 feet @ 246 knots
73 15:47 NTSB says there is a "wake encounter" comment by captain captured on the CVR.
74 15:48 2400 feet @ 244 knots - According to information NTSB has released to U.S.Read, the plane doesn't gain any altitude between now and when the rudder data becomes "unreliable" and the tail falls off (16.5 seconds from this point) and that all transponder replies from this moment on (indicating higher altitudes) are "erroneous". How can the plane not gain any altitude if they are clearly in a climb, having received clearance to 13,000 feet? Just four seconds from now, the pilots will apparently call for the "escape" maneuver which includes a 15 degree nose-up and maximum power application. It is very unusual that the NTSB implies the plane has leveled off here when the plane just gained 500 feet after hitting the alleged first wake turbulence 9 seconds earlier at 15:39. If the turbulence is to be blamed ... why did the plane climb after hitting it?? According to the NTSB, the plane's "attitudes" are unchanged from 15:39 to 15:59; which would imply the plane has not changed its pitch and rate of climb. The NTSB refuses to further clarify this entire sequence or surrender radar data from the Flight Data Recorder and FAA facilities. Lastly, why has the transponder just sent it's last "correct" readings when the plane is still 29 seconds from impact? The rudder movements that "break the tail" don't even start for another 11 seconds.
78 15:52 "try escape" comment heard on JFK Departure Control Tape and part of this transmission is simultaneously heard on the JFK Local Control Tape. The FAA transcribed this portion as "nice game". American Air Lines Pilots have confirmed to U.S.Read that this is a specific procedure to "escape" what the crew believes is wind shear or micro-bursts. During this procedure a crew member literally calls out in the cockpit ... "escape", which involves the disengagement of autopilot (which was probably off for 587 at this point), disengagement of auto-throttle, rotating the nose up 15 degrees, and applying maximum power. The Flight Data Recorder has recorded no accelerations since 15:39 and won't again till 15:59. The crew is 13 seconds past the 1st alleged turbulence encounter which the NTSB stated (at a Press Conference) did not affect the attitudes of the plane. So the question must be asked ... what is happening to this plane that has so concerned the crew, and is rattling the airframe? Whatever it is ... it cannot be attributed to wake turbulence.
also ...
2600 feet @ 252 knots. NTSB says this is an "erroneous" radar reading sent by the plane's transponder. Why is the transponder malfunctioning? The tail is still attached and the rudder is still sending position data to the cockpit. Unbelievably, the NTSB, after 6 months, believes releasing all the available radar hits from the FAA facilities and from the FDR to the Public will be counter-productive.
80 15:54 2nd airframe rattling noises on CVR. NTSB attributed first rattle at 15:40 to wake turbulence. Here we have the second rattle and no wake encounter. What caused the plane to rattle a second time?
83 15:57 PASSUR says this transponder reply was corrupted.
84 15:58 First Officer calls for maximum power
85 15:59
Plane encounters the second 0.1G lateral movement (NTSB alleges it is wake turbulence). This is the start of the infamous 8 second sequence where the rudder experienced five large movements, and the plane experienced 3 severe lateral accelerations "consistent" with the rudder movements (NTSB had stated at a Press Conference that these larger lateral forces, all at least 0.3 g, are not from the wake turbulence). The 8 second sequence ends when the FDR dies. Even though the rudder movements are only now beginning, the plane is in trouble since the crew is only 1 second from proclaiming "loss of control". Clearly, what put the crew in this terrible situation is not the rudder's movements or the loss of the tail (which does not occur for another 5.5 seconds).
 "Unintelligible" noise on TRACON tape; first of four consecutive noises within an 11 second period that NTSB Member George Black Jr. referred to at a Press Conference on Nov. 13th which he said were heard about the time the crew lost control. This noise is most probably a mike being keyed (pressed) on 587. It is brief but filled with interference. This is a second indicator now of electrical disturbances on the plane before the tail rips off (the transponder sending corrupted or erroneous packets is the first). Many aviation experts believe this is a potential indicator of a disturbance (fire or explosion) on the plane which occurred at the time of the first lateral movement at 15:39 or, possibly, as early as 15:25, the time 587 sent its first corrupted radar reply. U.S.Read has made available relevant portions of the FAA Tapes at http://usread.com/flight 587/FAA_Tapes_mp3/FAA_Tapes_mp3_format.html. If there was a fire or explosion on board this could very well have led to the radio interference, transponder errors and transponder death, death of the FDR, and more importantly, negatively affected flight controls and generated most (if not all) of the very unorthodox rudder movements.
 In regards to the wake turbulence, as stated earlier (in comments above for time stamp at 15:39), no weather data has been released by the NTSB to justify the postulation that 587 encountered wake turbulence at 15:39. To believe 587 encountered wake turbulence now, at 15:59 (the start of the rudder movements) is akin to black magic and witchcraft. And this is no exaggeration or sensationalistic claim. Here's why:
1. Pilots from many transport categories have mentioned to me that the way the NTSB has proffered the wake turbulence scenario is inconsistent with real world turbulence and inconsistent with the events that unfolded in the cockpit during those 20 seconds. For example: Why was there a 2nd rattle at 15:54 five seconds before the alleged second wake encounter at 15:59? Why did the pilot call for the escape procedure 13 seconds after the first wake encounter and 7 seconds before the next?
2. If the winds at at 9:15:59 am (the time of the alleged 2nd wake encounter) at 2400 feet (587's altitude according to the NTSB) were from the same general heading as they were at 7 am (approximately 330 degrees) it would mean that the wake vortices' distance to 587 would be over 1 nautical mile away. This would require a consistent 40 knot wind from 330 degrees! We haven't seen any supporting data. We don't see the Emperor's new clothes.
3. If the weather data suggests wind coming from the west (270 degrees) then this wake encounter is still impossible given the fact that JAL47 was at 3800 feet at that point, 1400 feet above where the NTSB says 587 was (at 2400 feet). That would require the wake vortices to fall at a rate of 933 feet per minute AND travel laterally at 28 knots. Dr. Fred Proctor, a wake turbulence expert with NASA's Langley Research Center, states that wake vortices fall at 300 to 480 feet per minute before they begin to decay. If we are generous to the wake encounter theory, and grant that the vortices did not decay at all during the 90 seconds and fell at a maximum rate of 720 feet over 90 seconds (while maintaining an eastward romp of 28 knots), the vortices would still be 680 feet above 587. Of course, the vortices would probably be higher since the vortices did experience some decay during the 90 second fall that would have slowed their descent below the max rate of 480 feet per minute, perhaps much slower. The Emperor is naked.
     If wake turbulence didn't kick off the NTSB's 8 second sequence of mayhem ... what did? The NTSB, up until April 11th, referred to the two 1/10th g lateral movements as being "consistent" with wake turbulence yet they never offered data to support that theory. As of April 12th, the NTSB now refers to what was a theory as now being an established fact, "the wake vortices that flight 587 encountered". This in their 7th Flight 587 Update Release dated April 12th. Still no data to support what has now become fact. The simplest application of basic math skills and true wake turbulence behavior indicates both encounters are unlikely, especially the 2nd encounter. Have they done the simple calculations we have? You would think so. If, due to other information we don't have at our disposal, they came up with results that support their wake turbulence theory, why didn't they release that information when they made their statements about wake turbulence? Now they have asked NASA to produce a "model" to show the effects the turbulence might have had on Flight 587. This is important. They haven't asked NASA to do a model showing if the encounters occurred, the NASA model is to show what would have happened to 587 since it did encounter the turbulence.
Crew makes several comments on CVR about loss of control - Why is the plane out of control when, according to the NTSB and the witnesses, the tail is still attached, and ... only 2 of the suspicious 5 rudder movements have occurred?
3,019 feet @ unknown speed. NTSB released this radar "hit" in November. NTSB informed U.S.Read on March 25, 2002 that "any" radar data above 2400 to 2500 feet is "erroneous" data transmitted by the transponder for some unknown reason. NTSB refuses to provide all the radar data. We have to wait till the factual reports which may not be released till late Summer (or later).
87 16:01 Last Transponder Reading (Radar Return) at 2800 feet, 237 knots, latitude 40.5873, longitude 73.8502 (PASSUR). NTSB says this too is an "erroneous" reading sent by the plane's transponder. Why has the transponder now sent it's 3rd consecutive bad packet? The tail is still attached and the rudder is still sending position data to the cockpit.
88 16:02 "Losing Control" comments also picked up on FAA Tapes. FAA describes this noise (on the TRACON tape) as "Unintelligible". Sound Analysis by U.S.Read, audio experts, and a former NASA Recording Systems Engineer, confirms what NTSB says the crew was already saying, "Losing Control". Radio transmissions from the plane are severely garbled and interference riddled. What is responsible for this severe interference on the radios and the death of the transponder? The tail is still attached yet the plane has been out of control for 3 seconds. The rudder is still sending position data to the cockpit. It appears both pilots keyed their microphones because a similar (but more garbled) message is picked up on the Local Control tape and sounds like "Mayday, Losing Control".
90.5 16:04.5
Rudder data becomes unreliable, and, according to the NTSB, the vertical stabilizer separates from the craft. NTSB says the FDR shows lateral acceleration increases to 0.8g, yaw rate of 10 deg/sec., left bank through 25 deg. with pilot applying right wheel, pitch down to -30 deg."
2400 feet @ 255 knots airspeed (reading from FDR released by NTSB at 2/8/02 press conference).
92 16:06 Plane's transponder does not reply to radar interrogation - no erroneous data, no corrupted packets. Just silence. And this continues for the next two radar interrogations up to the point of impact. This is unusual since the Airbus A300 has 2 antennas (1 on top, 1 on bottom for each of the two transponders) and the transponder is on the most protected electrical bus on the plane and can run off the plane's battery backup if power fails from the engine driven generators; the CVR can run off the plane's battery and it worked until impact. A source in the radar industry believes the two most likely explanations are (a) electrical failure or (b) damage to the transponder itself. The separation of the tail cannot account for either. Exhibit 3 below is a schematic of the transponder, it's location on an Airbus A300, and the antenna locations. All very far from the tail.
93 16:07 FDR Quits (93 seconds after liftoff based on NTSB Press Releases) and 10 seconds before impact. NTSB has not stated yet the most likely reason for the FDR failing; it was most likely a loss of power but what cut the power is the real question to be answered. CVR Sound Spectrum Analysis by NTSB confirms engines are heard running beyond this point. The FDR runs solely off the engine-driven generators therefore it's power source was still functioning. It is not on the same electric bus as the CVR, Transponder, and Radio, which will all run off the plane's battery if power fails. We await the factual reports to address this in detail. We know from witness statements that the engines (which drive the generators that provide power to the FDR) were attached until approximately 16:14 ... seven seconds after the FDR quit.
96 16:10
"Unintelligible" noise (similar to first three) on the TRACON tape; this is the fourth consecutive NOISE which spanned 11 seconds on the TRACON tape.This 4th noise was not on the TRACON transcript.
Plane's transponder does not reply to radar interrogation
97 16:11 (Unknown pilot): "straight ahead" (local control transcript). It appears a pilot has spotted AA 587 in trouble (6 seconds before the crash) and is trying to draw the Tower's attention to it. FAA and NTSB must have identified this pilot. We'd like to know what he saw. We look forward to this in the factual reports.
99 16:13 (Unknown pilot): "tower look to the south there's an aircraft crashing" (local control transcript).
101  16:15 Plane's transponder does not reply to radar interrogation
103 16:17

CVR Quits (based on NTSB Press Releases), 103 seconds after liftoff. NTSB believes the CVR quit at impact.

Plane crashes.

16:19 (Unknown pilot): "an aircraft just crashed to the south of the field" (local control transcript).

Exhibit 1 - Preliminary Radar Data Released by NTSB in November 2001
 Time  Altitude (feet)
 09:14:35  6
 09:14:45  531
 09:15:00  1139
 09:15:15  1367
 09:15:30  1594
 09:15:45  2148
 09:16:00  3019

Exhibit 2 - Flight 587 Radar Data released by Megadata Inc.

Time (EST)
(Mean Sea
Level); rounded by PASSUR

Feet Per Minute Change
Groundspeed in Knots
Groundspeed in Knots (from U.S.Read)
Miles Traveled
Previous Radar Hit (from U.S.Read)


1 PASSUR 9:14:34 100   141     40.6365N 73.7900W
2 PASSUR 9:14:39 400 3912 155 164 0.21 40.6381N 73.7941W
3 PASSUR 9:14:43 600 2608 159 160 0.205 40.6398N 73.7980W
4 PASSUR 9:14:48 800 2608 157 159 0.2035 40.6413N 73.8020W
5 PASSUR 9:14:53 1000 2608 161 159 0.2034 40.6422N 73.8063W
6 PASSUR 9:14:57 1200 2608 165 161 0.2052 40.6422N 73.8108W
7 PASSUR 9:15:02 1300 1304 173 170 0.2174 40.6416N 73.8155W
8 PASSUR 9:15:07 1300 0 180 179 0.2284 40.6401N 73.8201W
9 PASSUR 9:15:11 1400 1304 196 188 0.2403 40.6379N 73.8245W
10 PASSUR 9:15:16 1500 1304 211 198 0.2533 40.6349N 73.8284W
11 PASSUR 9:15:20 1500 0 225 218 0.2786 40.6310N 73.8317W
13 PASSUR 9:15:29 1700 1304 233 228 0.582 40.6223N 73.8373W
14 PASSUR 9:15:34 1800 1304 237 230 0.2935 40.6178N 73.8398W
15 PASSUR 9:15:38 1900 1304 237 240 0.3064 40.6131N 73.8424W
16 PASSUR 9:15:43 2200 3912 237 246 0.3142 40.6082N 73.8448W
17 PASSUR 9:15:48 2400 2608 237 244 0.3112 40.6033N 73.8470W
18 PASSUR 9:15:52 2600 2608 237 252 0.322 40.5981N 73.8487W
  NTSB 9:16:00 3019            
20 PASSUR 9:16:01 2800 1304 237 255 0.6528 40.5873N 73.8502W
NTSB from
9:16:04.5 2400 -8253 255 (airspeed)    
* PASSUR says these packets were corrupted.
** From NTSB Chairman Marion Blakey's Opening Statement re the Feb. 8th Safety Recommendation.
Exhibit 2.1 - JAL 47 Radar Data released by Megadata Inc.
Feet Knots Time Latitude Longitude
200 176 9:12:57 40.6397 73.7969
300 180 9:13:02 40.6417 73.8014
500 178 9:13:07 40.6436 73.8058
700 178 9:13:11 40.6452 73.8104
800 184 9:13:16 40.6462 73.8153
1000 186 9:13:20 40.6466 73.8205
1200 194 9:13:25 40.6462 73.8258
1400 194 9:13:30 40.645 73.831
1600 200 9:13:34 40.6431 73.8359
1800 204 9:13:39 40.6404 73.8402
1900 204 9:13:43 40.6372 73.8439
2100 209 9:13:48 40.6335 73.8471
2300 215 9:13:52 40.6295 73.8495
2400 225 9:13:57 40.625 73.8516
2600 225 9:14:02 40.6204 73.8534
2700 223 9:14:06 40.6159 73.8553
2900 217 9:14:11 40.6114 73.8574
3100 213 9:14:15 40.6072 73.8595
3400 209 9:14:20 40.603 73.8616
3600 209 9:14:25 40.5988 73.8634
3700 219 9:14:29 40.5943 73.8644
3900 236 9:14:34 40.5895 73.8648
3900 244 9:14:38 40.5844 73.8643
4000 254 9:14:43 40.5791 73.8624
4100 260 9:14:47 40.574 73.8601
4200 260 9:14:52 40.5692 73.8563
4300 264 9:14:57 40.565 73.8518
4400 262 9:15:01 40.5615 73.8462
4500 270 9:15:06 40.5582 73.8401
4600 276 9:15:10 40.5557 73.8333
4700 274 9:15:15 40.5542 73.8259
4800 277 9:15:19 40.5532 73.8183
5000 276 9:15:24 40.5534 73.8107
5100 281 9:15:29 40.5536 73.8031
5200 283 9:15:33 40.5544 73.795
5400 289 9:15:38 40.5553 73.7874
5600 291 9:15:42 40.5563 73.7796
5800 295 9:15:47 40.5575 73.7714
6000 299 9:15:51 40.5586 73.7634
6300 305 9:15:56 40.5594 73.755
6500 309 9:16:01 40.5604 73.7464

Exhibit 3 - Transponder
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