New York reels from its latest tragedy

New York firefighters hose down burning debris from the aircraft, which crashed in Queens Keystone

New York is once again the scene of tragedy two months after two hijacked commercial airliners slammed into the World Trade Center, killing more than 4,500 people.

This content was published on November 13, 2001 minutes

On Monday morning at around 0915 local time an American Airlines jet headed for Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, crashed into the metropolitan borough of Queens, minutes after taking off from John F Kennedy airport.

The city's mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, said none of the 255 people on board had survived. He added that 161 bodies had already been recovered from the area and that six people from the Rockaway district in Queens were reported missing.

Messages of condolence

President George W Bush expressed his sympathy to all those involved and offered his condolences to the families of the victims. He also expressed his deep concern at seeing the city and residents of New York faced with another tragedy.

The UN Security Council, which is based in New York, observed a moment of silence for the victims of the crash and issued a statement expressing its "heartfelt sympathies to the people of the United States and the families of those who lost their lives".

The Swiss foreign ministry said the plane crash was a tragedy and Ruedi Christen, a spokesman for the ministry, expressed sympathy to the victims and their families.

Immediate reaction to crash

Immediately after the crash, officials sealed off the city's bridges and tunnels and closed its three airports but all of the key transport links were reopened later in the morning. However, the airports only ran to a limited schedule with JFK airport only allowing the landing of inbound flights already in the air.

As a further precautionary measure the Empire State Building was closed, and access to the United Nations headquarters in Manhattan was restricted to pedestrians as Ministers from 189 member states gathered inside for the general assembly.

Market reaction

The stock markets also reacted quickly to the crash with the already fragile airline industry worst hit.

Donald Carty, the chairman and CEO of American Airlines said the crash came "at a difficult time for the nation, for New York and the airline industry."

The major European stock markets all reported losses with the FTSE 100 closing down two per cent, the Paris CAC down three per cent and the Zurich SMI down one and three-quarter per cent.

The market losses were driven by the drop in price of airline stocks. The Dutch airline KLM and British Airways were among the worst affected seeing 6.5 per cent wiped off their share value.

Cause of crash unknown

There was no immediate indication of what caused the crash and 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.

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 which reduced the World Trade Center to rubble.

"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.

At a press briefing, Ari Fleisher, the White House spokesman, said that security agencies had not received any credible terrorist threat 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."

Flight recorder recovered

One of the flight data recorders was quickly recovered from the crash scene with recovery workers still searching for the second cockpit voice recorder.

Marion Blakey from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said the black box would be flown to Washington for analysis to determine the cause of the crash.

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

Two crash sites

The wreckage from the Airbus A-300 aircraft was spread over a number of sites in Queens. Following his helicopter flight over the crash scene, Guiliani told reporters that a section of the wing could be seen in the bay off the waterfront 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.

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 and at least one eyewitness reported that he heard an explosion before the jet fell from the sky.

Airlines diverted

Several airlines diverted flights heading for New York and many European airlines were forced to delay flights. Swissair cancelled one flight, and said it was possible another two other flights would have to be diverted either to Boston or Montreal, Canada.

swissinfo with agencies

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