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Airliner crash apparently accidental, officials say

Emergency services personnel swarm over the crash site in Queens Keystone

Preliminary investigations have led transportation officials to consider the crash of an American Airlines Airbus in New York the result of an accident --not terrorist action.

The plane slammed into the borough of Queens shortly after takeoff from JFK airport early on Monday morning. The crash comes just two months after two hijacked airliners were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, killing more than 4,500 people.

Investigators indicated the latest crash is apparently not a repeat of September’s terrorist attacks. During a press briefing on Monday night, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced that a first examination of the flight data recorder confirmed the crash might have been the result of an accident.

“Everything we have learned says we are proceeding appropriately, considering this an accident,” said Marion Blakely, head of the NTSB.

Explosion reported

The so-called black box was recovered quickly after the crash of Flight 587. It was then brought to the NTSB headquarters in Washington to be analysed. The second cockpit recorder, which contains the voice recorder, has not yet been found.

The American television network CBS reported on Monday evening that investigators were “stunned” by the powerful explosion that took place as the American Airlines Airbus A-300 was climbing after take-off.

Pieces of fuselage were found not only around the main crash site in Rockaway Beach, a neighbourhood in the New York borough of Queens, but also in several places along Belle Harbor peninsula, as well as nearby Jamaica Bay.

According to CBS News, investigators find it “bizarre” that the wings had come off the plane. They suggest that such a strong explosion could only have been caused by a catastrophic problem with an engine – or, perhaps, by explosives.

At a press conference, New York State Governor George Pataki said “the pilot did dump jet fuel in Jamaica Bay before the crash, which is consistent with the pilot having some belief that there was a significant mechanical failure on the plane.”

Airbus response

A spokesman for Airbus, the plane’s builder, said later this was impossible. According the European manufacturer, the aircraft could not have dumped its load of fuel before the crash as the version sold to American Airlines lacked that capacity.

According to the airline, the Airbus was put in service in July 1988 and underwent routine maintenance check last Sunday, the eve of the crash.

New York authorities indicated that the crash killed all 251 passengers and nine crewmembers on Flight 587 bound for Santo-Domingo. They added that at least six people were missing on the ground, as the fall of the plane destroyed or seriously damaged 12 homes.

The tragedy struck a neighbourhood of Queens that had lost more than 70 residents in the collapse of the World Trade Center skyscrapers.

So far, 265 bodies have been pulled from the smoking ruins of burnt-out houses after Monday’s crash.

In Washington, President George W Bush expressed his sympathies for the citizens of New York. “There is no doubt in my mind that New Yorkers will overcome this latest tragedy because they are a resilient and courageous people”, said the US President, who declined to comment on the possible cause of the crash.

White House spokesman Ari Fleisher said that the US government had received no information related to any possible terrorist threat on New York on Monday. According to Fleisher, the first indications were that “all communications with the cockpit were normal until the crash”.

While investigators are strongly considering the possibility that the crash was accidental, the White House spokesman did not rule out anything as to the cause of the crash, including the possibility of a terrorist act.

by Marie-Christine Bonzom with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR