Associated Retired Aviation Professionals

August 6, 2002

Miles O'Brien of CNN on AA Flight 587 Investigation


O'BRIEN: The investigation into what caused the fatal crash of American

Airlines Flight 587 continues. Next week, the National Transportation Safety

Board will try to recreate the brief flight in NASA simulators.

But nine months later, a probable cause of that crash remains elusive. Now

an article in "Vanity Fair" Magazine is raising some questions about that




O'BRIEN (voice-over): It isn't easy piecing together the puzzle that is a

major airline crash, and so it has gone for American Airlines Flight 587.

Nine months after the Airbus A-300 lost its tail fin and crashed shortly

after departing New York's Kennedy Airport, killing 265, only a few facts

have come to light but the competing contradictory theories abound.


DAVID ROSE, JOURNALIST: To be frank with you, I don't actually have a

theory. What I do have is evidence which casts grave doubt on the NTSB's

theory, which they've been...


O'BRIEN: Freelance journalist David Rose has penned an article for the

September issue of "Vanity Fair." He cites official data, independent

analysis, and dozens of interviews that cast doubt on the pilot error



He takes issue with a statement made by outgoing National Transportation

Safety Board Chairwoman Marion Blakey.


MARION BLAKEY, NTSB CHAIRWOMAN: We've calculated that certain rudder inputs

by pilots made during certain stages of a flight can cause catastrophic

failure of an airliner's vertical stabilizer.


O'BRIEN: Despite this statement, the NTSB has not come to any conclusion

about the cause of American 587, which leads us to what we have reported

here at CNN. According to crash investigators, it is likely the plane flew

into the so-called weight vortices created by a 747 that departed just

prior. The vortices are like strong horizontal tornadoes that spin off the

tips of wings.


Shortly after hitting that turbulence, the rudder, the movable flap on the

tail fin, began swinging wildly to and fro. In seconds, the tail fin sheared

off but what caused the rudder to move so violently?


BOB TAMBORINI, PILOT: If you speak to most pilots, they don't believe that.

Normally pilots are going to operate a rudder in that fashion.


O'BRIEN: 8300 Captain Bob Tamborini (ph) is among a group of eight American

pilots who have launched their own investigation. They believe there's a

defect in the Airbus rudder America mechanism, which causes it to move on

its own. But American says there is no evidence that happened.

The pilots are also concerned about the strength of the A-300's composite

tail. In May, they delivered a petition to American management requesting

ultrasound inspections of the A-300 fleet. The technique can identify latent

defects beneath the surface.


(on-camera): So is that airbus, A-300 -- is that graphite composite tail

design unsafe? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think there are very serious

questions about the inspection regime that airbus and the FAA and American

Airlines and other operators use.


O'BRIEN (voice-over): But American Airlines says the inspections, which

require complete removal of the tail fin could do more harm than good. The

airline and the NTSB say if the A-300s were unsafe, they would ground the

fleet in an instant.



O'BRIEN: We asked American Airlines to comment, and the company responded

with this statement -- "The notion that this story in any way furthers the

real investigation of Flight 587 is ludicrous. Fortunately, we don't think

the American public depends upon publications like 'Vanity Fair' for

credible investigative information on aviation safety, and neither should



Airbus has this to say -- "The tabloidesque narrative irrationally suggests

that the opinions of a small group of people are of more relevance than the

ongoing work of the professional investigators. Safety remains the highest

priority of all in the aviation community."


We asked the NTSB if they could provide us somebody on camera to talk with

about this investigation. They decided not to, but we do have somebody with

us who is an expert on such matters. Jim Hall, former chairman of the NTSB,

who handled some of the most complicated cases in the history of the board,

joining us now from Washington.

Good to have you with us, Mr. Hall.


JIM HALL, FORMER NTSB CHAIRMAN: Good afternoon, Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right, we're nine months post Flight 587. The theories continue

to abound, not a lot of facts coming out. Is that something that we should

consider unusual or is that the way it goes now with these complicated



HALL: Well, it's certainly not unusual and obviously, the focus of this

story is -- of this show is based on this "Vanity Fair" article that Mr.

Rose wrote in which he basically put words into the NTSB's mouth, formed

conclusions for the agency that are still under investigation. The TWA

accident investigation took us four years; U.S. Air 427 took an almost

four-year period of time. The board is doing a very responsible job as it

always does and to do that and do a thorough professional investigation,

requires time.


O'BRIEN: Of course, journalism being such as it is, sometimes deadlines and

pressures bring out stories like this. And I'm curious; as an investigator,

on the inside of these investigations, does it hinder your ability to get

the job done at all?


HALL: No, not at all. Obviously, I think the investigators, you know, follow

the news and pay attention to what's going on like anyone else, but they are

trained. Their focus is to let the facts lead them to conclusions and those

conclusions then lead to recommendations that will make aviation safer.

"Vanity Fair" is an entertainment magazine. I'm sure Mr. Rose was writing

against a deadline. It's too bad he did not wait until the October hearings

so that many of the questions that he sort of sets up and provides answers

to will be obviously, answered in those October hearings.


O'BRIEN: Now, do you have the sense of, by October, when those hearings

begin that this will be one of the investigations that the NTSB is able to

come up with some probable cause or is this one that might, in fact, stump

the investigators?


HALL: No, there have been rare instances in which the board has not been

able to determine a probable cause. But again, there is a significant

investigation. The first investigation of what is a major -- an accident

involving a composite flight surface. So the board certainly needs to take

its time and look at the certification, obviously, at all of the issues

surrounding the pilot operations and what happened to the rudder, the

effects of the weight turbulence, all of these things are being looked at

separately. Then, they have to be brought together in the hearing and looked

at and an opportunity for people to express their views. It's a process that

is independent and it's a process that has served the American people well.


O'BRIEN: Mr. Hall, we are just about out of time, but I've got to ask you

before we get away. If investigators had found some sort of defect in that

A-300, the tail or the tail mechanism by now, would there have been a

request from the NTSB to ground those aircraft?


HALL: Well, of course, there would. The NTSB -- obviously, any time there is

a safety of flight issue, brings that issue to the attention of the FAA and

the appropriate authorities. What is unfortunate here is that the pilots who

-- many of the pilots here who form the basis of this article aren't helping

me support cockpit -- cameras in the cockpit that would have answered many

of the questions that they're posing in terms of what happened, what the

pilots did or did not do during the accident sequence.


O'BRIEN: Jim Hall, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety

Board, always a pleasure to have you with us.

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