The plane was American Airlines Flight 587, an Airbus A300 aircraft scheduled to fly from New York to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, the FAA said. The agency said it had no information on what caused the plane, carrying 246 passengers and nine crew members, to crash.
President Bush expressed his sympathy during a brief address from the White House Rose Garden.
“The New York people have suffered mightily,” the president said. “They suffer again, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the New Yorkers are a resilient and strong and courageous people and will help their neighbors overcome this recent incident.”
New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said this afternoon 161 bodies had been recovered by late afternoon, while six people believed to have been in the area of the crash were reported missing.
Governor George Pataki said it appeared the pilot may have tried to dump fuel over Jamaica Bay before the crash, which he said could be a sign of a detected mechanical problem aboard the plane.
An engine was found intact at a Texaco station, missing gas tanks by six feet or less. Giuliani said what appeared to be remnants of a wing were spotted just offshore in the bay.
New York authorities shut down all airports in the region and temporarily closed all bridges and tunnels to incoming traffic. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani also placed all emergency personnel on the highest level of alert.
Normal operations were allowed to resume at LaGuardia Airport in New York and Newark International Airport in New Jersey this afternoon. Officials have allowed flights to arrive at Kennedy airport, but have continued a ban on departures there, Pataki said. Major bridges and tunnels were also closed for hours, although most were reopened by mid-afternoon.
The investigation begins
The National Transportation Safety Board, which is leading the crash investigation, said they have recovered the plane’s flight data recorder — one of two “black boxes” that monitor events in the aircraft’s cockpit.
So far, the agency says it looks unlikely terrorists were behind the crash.
“All information we have currently is that this is an accident,” NTSB Chairwoman Marion Blakey said.
Earlier today, Giuliani said parts of the plane have been found in four places in a “devastating” swath of wreckage. He said it was unlikely there were any survivors.
“We are doing everything we can to recover as many bodies as possible,” Giuliani said. “We hope and pray that there are survivors, but right now it looks very, very devastating.”
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer this afternoon said all communications with the plane were normal prior to the crash and confirmed the government had not received any credible threats related to today’s crash.
The FBI said there was no indication the crash was part of a terrorist attack.
American Airlines CEO Donald Carty said his company had no information on what caused the incident. He expressed his condolences to the families of passengers and crewmembers who died in the crash.
Meanwhile, 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.
Responding to the crash
Several buildings caught fire and a plume of thick smoke poured into the air from the Rockaway section of Queens after the plane crashed at about 9:17 a.m. Eastern time. Fighter jets patrolled the area shortly after the crash.
A fire department spokesman told Reuters 44 units and 198 firefighters responded to the scene and battled the flames.
President Bush postponed a scheduled interview with Russian and American reporters, ahead of a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin, to monitor details of the crash, news agencies reported.
A Kremlin spokeswoman said Putin, scheduled to fly to the U.S. today, would stick to his schedule.
“His plans remain unchanged,” she said.