Chaos rained from the sky over Queens, N.Y. Monday morning in the form of plane wreckage. But as investigators pick through the wreckage of American Airlines Flight 587, uncertainty looms over the heads of anxious Americans, as they await word from authorities concerning the nature of the crash.
Before the Airbus A300 crashed, both of its engines and its tail separated from the fuselage. One of the engines crashed into a Rockaway Beach neighborhood garage, while the other landed in the parking lot of a nearby gas station, barely missing gas tanks. The tail was later recovered in Jamaica Bay, offshore from the site where the plane went down.
Jose Porteiro, an aeronautical engineer and USF professor, said he has never heard of a crash of this caliber.
He said one engine seizing on a plane is nothing pilots aren’t trained to handle.
“Nothing should have happened to that plane when the first engine came out,” Porteiro said. “It’s a requirement that pilots be able to fly without it.”
Porteiro said it won’t take long for investigators to determine the cause of the crash. Following the events of Sept. 11, many believe the crash could have been another act of terrorism. But Porteiro isn’t so sure. He said the possibility exists, but he is perplexed as to how a bomb could inflict the injuries that the plane sustained.
“It doesn’t make sense,” Porteiro said. “If you’re going to put a bomb on a plane, where are you going to put it? You’re going to put it in the baggage underneath the plane, but that is too far away (to blow off the engines).”
He said one bomb could not have been responsible for all the damage, but multiple bombs would be more viable, though more complex to rig.
“I could see no way you could plant one explosive that could cause three parts to blow off,” he said.
Porteiro said he could also envision a situation in which the dismemberment of the plane came as a result of mechanical problems. He said after the first engine fell off, the pilot could have went to full thrust on the remaining engine. He said that this could have caused the fatal chain reaction.
“For instance, if you have full thrust on the left engine, the plane would turn to the right. The pilot would then need to compensate using the rudder on the tail,” he said.
He said extra stress placed on the remaining engine and the tail could have caused both parts to separate from the body of the plane.
Harry Vanden, a terrorism expert and USF professor, said there is not enough information to determine the origins of the disaster.
“Obviously, it’s a high visibility target being a major airline and being in New York,” Vanden said. “But its too early to tell (if it’s terrorism). I don’t want to jump to conclusions.”
But Vanden said even if it does turn out that the plane crashed as a result of mechanical failure, its timing and proximity to New York City would make it hard for him to believe it was just an accident.
“It would be one hell of a coincidence,” he said.
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