Pilots struggled to control jet

Associated Press

NEW YORK — The cockpit voice recorder from American Flight 587 indicates the pilots struggled to control the jetliner after a rattling was heard less than two minutes into takeoff, investigators reported Tuesday.

The Airbus A300 crashed into the Rockaway Beach section of Queens, another jolt of terror for a community that lost scores of residents in the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center. A number of homes were destroyed.

All 260 people aboard were killed when the plane broke apart and plunged into a Queens neighborhood after leaving nearby Kennedy Airport. Five more people were missing and feared dead on the ground.

George Black Jr. of the National Transportation Safety Board said investigators do not yet know what caused the "airframe rattling noise."

The pilots on Flight 587 also spoke of encountering wake turbulence, which is believed to have contributed to other deadly airline crashes. Black said a Japan Airlines jumbo jet took off two minutes and 20 seconds before Flight 587 — a full 20 seconds longer than the normal separation time between takeoffs.

Black said it was too early to say if there was any relationship between the noises or the turbulence and Monday’s crash.

Investigators say there is no evidence of sabotage so far and all signs point to a catastrophic mechanical problem.

The first portion of the flight to the Dominican Republic appeared normal, with the co-pilot at the controls. But 107 seconds after the plane started its takeoff roll, a rattling was heard; 14 seconds later, there is a second rattle, Black said.

Twenty-three seconds later — after "several comments suggesting loss of control" — the cockpit voice recording ends, he said. From takeoff to the end of the tape lasts less than 2 minutes, 24 seconds.

The plane’s other black box, the flight data recorder, was recovered Tuesday. The instrument tracks nearly 200 functions, including instruments and engine performance, and investigators hope it will provide clues to what happened

The NTSB is trying to determine why the vertical stabilizer — or tail fin — and the attached rudder separated in flight just before the crash.

Also, the General Electric engines on the Airbus A300 model have drawn close scrutiny since the spring of 2000, when planes reported engine failures that sent metal fragments flying.

The NTSB was also looking at whether the plane’s two engines might have failed after sucking birds inside, a phenomenon that has caused severe damage to airliners in the past. But the NTSB said an initial inspection of the engines found no evidence of such a collision and the engines appeared to be largely intact.

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