Airbus tail fin may provide answer to New York crash

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The Independent US

Investigators appear to be convinced that the key to determining what caused American Airlines flight 587 to crash, killing at least 265 people, lies in the aircraft's tail.

The distinctive tail fin, a 27ft (8 metre) structure made from a composite of carbon and plastic fibres, was ripped from the Airbus A-300 moments after take-off, almost certainly sending the plane out of control. Attention yesterday focused on the fin and the fittings that hold it to the plane's body.

There is also speculation that turbulence created by a Japan Airlines Boeing 747 that took off from New York's JFK airport immediately before the Airbus, may have been a factor.

While it appears to have hit a so-called "wake vortex", experts have said that the airliner was designed to withstand tremendous pressure created by turbulence.

But they acknowledge that the air movement could have been fatal if crucial parts of the Airbus were already weakened by metal fatigue or corrosion.

Marion Blakey, who chairs the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), said: "I want to stress that we do not know the specific facts here. We do not know whether this really contributed in any way to the actual accident, but we are looking at this very closely."

The accident happened at 9.17am on Monday morning, less than three minutes after the aircraft had taken off from New York en route for the Dominican Republic.

The plane plunged into the Queens neighbourhood of Belle Harbor, a community that lost 70 people in the terrorist attacks on 11 September.

Yesterday, materials specialists were doing tests on the composite material used to make the tail fin, which has been recovered in the rescue effort from Jamaica Bay. Investigators are also examining the flight data recorder, one of the two black boxes that has been recovered. Though badly damaged, officials believe it will reveal vital evidence about the airliner's brief journey.