American Airlines Flight 587, bound for Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, showed signs of difficulty as soon as it took off from Kennedy airport and crashed only minutes later, National Transportation Safety Board representatives said Tuesday.
The 251 passengers and nine crew members aboard died in the crash.
Several witnesses said they saw smoke or flame pouring out of the jet before it went down. The crash sparked several house fires in the Rockaway section of Queens. Residents said that five people were missing from the area. Police have recovered all bodies from the plane and only two additional victims on the ground.
The residential neighborhood has been hit hard by tragedy and only recently buried fire fighters and workers killed in the World Trade Center collapse.
“To have them hit a second time is very, very difficult,” New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani said of the largely Irish Catholic, Italian and Jewish neighborhood. “They’re the strongest people you’re ever going to be meet because of their strong religious faith.”
Officials say the recordings from both black boxes indicate that the pilots were struggling to control the plane, but that no one else was in the cockpit.
“There are no unknown voices in the cockpit. There’s no sound of anything that we would believe to be an unusual sound for an aviation cockpit environment,” George Black, an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, said today on CBS about one of the black boxes.
The second box, which records voices in the cockpit, was found late Tuesday. The recording indicates that the crew was fighting to control the plane before it went down. The recorder ends two and a-half minutes into the flight.
According to Black, two different airframe rattling noises are heard.
Investigators are looking into whether a bird could have flown into the engine, a familiar problem at Kennedy airport, or other causes for the failure. Black, however, said that initial inspection showed no sign of that type of an damage.
Recent reports of engine trouble also point to mechanical trouble as a likely cause of the crash.
The Federal Aviation Administration published a safety notice about the specific CF6-80C2 engine used in the Airbus A300 model last month stating there was a need for mandatory inspections because “an unsafe condition has been identified.” The report gave the public 60 days to comment before any mandatory changes had to be made.
CF6-80C2 engines are used on more than 1,000 aircraft worldwide.
Families gather to mourn
Family members of the victims gathered Tuesday to mourn at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan; the same place where many went after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
“I want them to know that we’re there to support them, to help them and to assist them in every single way that we can,” Giuliani said after visiting the center Tuesday with New York Gov. George Pataki.
The city, state and federal government are “all trying to work together to make this as easy as a difficult situation like this can be,” he said.
Dominican President Hipolito Mejia said his country’s consulate in New York had told him about 150 of those on the plane were Dominican citizens. He told reporters he was in constant contact with his consulate and was profoundly saddened by the crash.