Was the Flight 587 crash an Accident?

According to the NY Daily News,


Was this crash the result of a shoe bomber of some other form of of sabotage? Or, just failure of the tail, which was under huge stress? Could a failure of the tail have caused the plane to catch fire in midair?

Here’s the NTSB press release for those who want to read it directly.

december, do you want us to debate the probable causes of the crash based purely on conflicting eyewitness accounts, or do you want our opinions on what the NTSB is likely to find?

Either one, I suppose.

Well then.

My opinion is that the NTSB will base their conclusions on actual physical evidence, expert aviation engineering knowledge, recordings from the control tower and from the “black box”, and on those eyewitness accounts which can’t be ruled out due to conflicting data.

What I immediately thought was that these people saw the glint of the sun off the plane and confused that with seeing a fire.

The New York Daily News article in the OP said:

True … and aver a hundred eyewitnesses to TWA Flight 800 said they saw something like a missile streak toward the plane right before it blew up in midair.

Eyewitness accounts are notoriously unreliable.

How can you debate a topic about which there are so few facts? This would be better sent to IMHO.

Let 'em finish the investigation. Then start the stupidity.

I’d just like to add to what Tracer said - eyewitness accounts of airline crashes are notoriously unreliable. I guess it must be hard to make sense of what you’re seeing when you see an event that is so far outside the norm of experience.

I’ve read a lot of crash reports, and it’s almost always striking how wrong the eyewitnesses were. For example, if the plane was coming down in a non-aerodynamic fashion, then there may have been a large low-pressure zone being created which causes condensation. You can see that effect on the leading edges of fighter jets when pulling high-G manoevers. To an untrained eye, that could look like smoke. Sunlight glinting off the fuselage could look like fire.

Or it could even have been on fire. The ‘G’ forces on that plane would have been extreme. It’s entirely possible that the engine shear pins disconnected or fuel lines ruptured and ignited before impact. That doesn’t make it a terrorist event.

Wait for the final NTSB report. They know what they’re doing.

Aviation Week’s summary page, in case you’re interested. The photos make it quite clear that the vertical stabilizer attachment lugs did fracture, for reasons still not yet publicly known.

It’s practically a truism in crash investigation that there is always some yokel witness on the ground insisting the plane was on fire and nose-diving.

Q: How many crash investigators does it take to change a light bulb?
A: It’s too early to speculate on that at this time.

When the engine fell off that DC-10 in Chicago two decades ago, all DC-10s were grounded until they could figure out what caused the engine to separate and fix the planes so that it wouldn’t happen again.

Here, the whole vertical stabilizer – the entire tail section that sticks up, fer chrissake – came off. Why haven’t all Airbus A300’s been grounded? (The Aviation Week article says that American Airlines is “inspecting” its A300 fleet, but that’s it.)

also, I would like to point out that this was on veterans’ day.

Could be coincidence, but makes you scratch your head just a little.

Has any terrorist group claimed responsibility? I’ve not heard any mention of one.

The A300 tail is made of a composite material, lightweight and strong, but not metal. The attach fittings are metal. Possibly a structural failure at this joint set the chain of events into motion. I’ve chopped up an A300 fin before, and although it seemed structurally sound while intact, once the initial cutting began, it seemed to come unglued rather easily.

I want to say I picked this up out of Flying but I just went through a couple of the issues I have and couldn’t find the article.

It seems pretty accepted that the rudder separation happened early in and was the cause of the crash. The “why” and “how” is going to be interesting. I doubt there was an inherent flaw in the structure, but sometimes things can turn up late in the life of an airplane design.

If the safety recommendation is any indication, the NTSB has already developed a theory as to why the tail may have separated. The pilots, adjusting to the wake turbulance of a 747, broke the tail off themselves.

Each aircraft has a design maneuvering airspeed which is the maximum speed at which you can make full use of the control surfaces. The common belief, and how I was trained (C152 is as far as I got, but, the NTSB seems to agree most pilots are taught this), was that at this speed you could make full limit to limit movements of the controls and not exceed the load factor of the airplane.

While this may be the case for the ailerons and elevator controls, this is not true for the rudder:

So, certification requires building the aircraft for forces from neutral rudder to full stop on one side, establishing the yaw condition, then returning the rudder to neutral. Movement from full stop to full stop is not considered.

If the aircraft is in a yaw, such as the nose moving left in response to turbulance and the pilots correct with full right rudder (accidentally or purposefully) this could cause enough stress for the rudder to snap.

The NTSB is recommending pilot training to

Looks like they might end up blaming the accident on good old “pilot error”. What the hell, the poor bastards aren’t around to defend themselves.

All quotes from the NTSB Safety Letter http://www.ntsb.gov/Recs/letters/2002/A02_01_02.pdf

Bolding added for emphasis

Well, an Al Queda operative is now claiming that (you nailed it December) it was one of their men with a shoe bomb:


Jesus Hosannah Christ! So December was right?!?

Now the moderators are going to have to track him down, apologize, pay him reparations, and then reinstate him. Then the moderators themselves will step down, and then immolate themselves in a cleansing fire…

I often talk with A/A mechanics and pilots and if I remember correctly that particular plane had some problems with the tail assembly that required Airbus Engineering support. I’m not positive because I ask about every accident out of general curiosity. Also, I believe the A300 tail assembly is sort of “glued” on in a manner quite different from traditional design. Some Airbus folks can correct me if I’m wrong.

Large airplanes are not the same as smaller planes for the simple fact they are heavier. Think of how much your car flexes going over a bump at 50 mph and translate that amount of movement to a 170 ft airplane that weighs over 300,000 lbs and is traveling at 450 mph. Any sudden movements will tear the plane apart. The best visual example was the Russian SST. The pilots made an abrupt movement to avoid hitting another plane and their aircraft folded. I believe the move is called “bunting”.

I hate to bash the plane’s structural design after seeing about 50 pictures of the one they tried to shoot down in Baghdad. Had to be some proud engineers after that.

It’s not just really large aircraft that can generate a vortex. Vorticies will form behind any airline size aircraft. Vorticies sink as they disperse so it is dangerous for any aircraft to make a low approach behind anything bigger than a 737.

I find it doubtful that a pilot would slam opposite rudder in response to a roll unless it was extremely violent in which case I don’t think it would matter. I’ve been rolled 90 degrees before and rudder input was not done in a panic (although I did think I was going to be completely rolled at the time).

An unnamed source perhaps possibly linked to something, but didn’t actually bring the plane down, but they expected it? How long before we find a Taleban guy on the grassy knoll?

I think you are taking political correctness too far here. First, there are a number of names mentioned in the article. Second, we know by their own admission and statements that there are any number of Islamic Militants who would LIKE to do this sort of thing if they were able. Third, there were many eye-witness reports after the crash that there was an explosion on board the plane BEFORE the tail separated.

I’m keeping an open mind – just reporting the latest news.

Yes. All provided by one unnamed source. That’s irresponsible and untrustworth journalism.

So it surely happened? How scientific.

If you can remember, the first few hours of CNN talked about nothing but terrorism, even though there was no evidence of it whatsoever. People are capable of interpreting all sorts of things. (Would you or I know what a mid-air explosion looked or sounded like without seeing one? No. So we’re unable to say whether something looked or sounded like a mid-air explosion.)

From an original CNN report:


The ‘fireballs’ could have been just about anything.

No wait, here’s the next paragraph:

Well, that proves it.