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At least 255 people killed as plane crashes in New York

Firefighters battle to put out the flames in Queens Keystone

New York's mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, has said there are no survivors following the crash of an American airlines plane over the metropolitan borough of Queens.

Guiliani said that all 246 passengers and 9 crew members had died, when the A-300 airbus ploughed into a residential area, shortly after take-off from John F Kennedy International Airport. The plane was headed for Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic and took-off at 0915 local time.

He added that 161 bodies had already been recovered from the area and that six people from Rockaway in Queens were reported missing. Emergency workers are still on the scene putting out fires and administering first aid.

Immediately after the crash, officials sealed off access routes into the city and closed New York’s three airports. But the bridges and tunnels along with two of the airport were opened later in the morning. However, all flights scheduled to take-off from JFK airport have been suspended, but incoming flights are still able to land.

There was no immediate indication of the cause of the crash, which comes two months after the September 11 terrorist attacks destroyed the city’s World Trade Center.

As further precautionary measures the Empire State Building was closed, and the United Nations headquarters was sealed off where Ministers from the 189 member states are gathered for the general assembly.

Speaking to reporters in Queens, Giuliani said he had “to fear the worst but hope for the best” adding that the city “had been on high alert since September 11” and that today was no different.

No indication of terrorist attack

The FBI said there was no indication that the crash was a terrorist attack, or that it was related to the September 11 attacks in New York, in which hijacked commercial airliners were crashed into the World Trade Center, killing more than 4,500 people.

“Right now, we don’t believe it is [terrorist related] because we don’t have any information indicating that it is,” Federal Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Tracy Ballinger said.

The White House said it had received no credible threats which coincided with the crash and that all communication with the aircraft had been normal in the minutes before the tragedy.

Secretary of State, Colin Powell added his voice to the FBI’s reaction by saying the crash “appeared to be an accident.”

One of the flight data recorders was quickly recovered from the crash scene according to Marion Blakey from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). She said it would be flown to Washington later on Monday for analysis in a bid to determine the cause of the crash.

The flight data recorder is one of two so-called “black boxes” on board the flight which could give information about the cause of the tragedy. The other is the cockpit voice recorder which has not yet been found.

She also said that all the information the NTSB currently has points towards an accident.

Two crash sites

The wreckage is spread over a number of sites in the area. Guiliani told reporters that a section of the wing could be seen in the bay off the waterfront at Queens and that an engine had fallen to the ground close to a gas station on 129th street. The rest of the plane, including the fuselage crashed two blocks away on 131st street.

Guiliani added that four homes had been completely destroyed with four more seriously damaged and as many as a dozen others affected.

At least four buildings were reported on fire after the crash along a shopping district of the popular Rockaway section of Queens, which is connected to Manhattan by bridges.

Electricity was reported to be cut to some homes in the area.

Nearly 200 firefighters and more than 40 rescue vehicles converged on the scene, and rescue helicopters flew in the skies overhead. Two schools in the area were converted to emergency medical centres. Both had been closed for the Veterans Day holiday, as were many public buildings across the country.

Plumes of smoke billowed from the crash site with at least one witness reporting he heard an explosion.

Airlines diverted

Several airlines diverted flights heading for New York. Swissair cancelled one flight, and said that unless JFK airport was open by 2000 Central European Time, two other flights would have to be diverted either to Boston or Montreal, Canada.

swissinfo with agencies

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