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Did Wake Turbulence Cause American Airlines Crash? - 2001-11-15

Investigators in New York are looking into the possibility that "wake turbulence" may have caused the crash of American Airline flight 587. The Airbus A-300 slammed into a residential neighborhood Monday, killing some 265 people on the airplane and on the ground.

Officials of the National Transportation Safety Board, the lead agency investigating the crash, say signs so far indicate the crash was an accident, not an act of sabotage.

NTSB chairwoman Marion Blakey says preliminary analysis shows a pattern consistent with "wake turbulence." This rare phenomenon can occur when the air between two airplanes is disturbed, particularly if the planes are not sufficiently separated. "Wake turbulence' can cause a loss of lift under the wings of an airplane and disturb its stability.

Ms. Blakey says Flight 587 took off one minute and 45 seconds behind a Japan Airlines jumbo jet, less than the normal two minutes between take offs and about 35 seconds sooner than was initially reported. Ms. Blakey stresses that "wake turbulence" is only one factor being investigated.

Experts are puzzled, however, because "wake turbulence" does not explain why the tail section of the Airbus A-300 broke off from the fuselage.

Ms. Blakey says there is little evidence so far to suggest sabotage.

"We are consistently looking for any signs that there may have been sabotage, criminal activity of any type. We have not detected any evidence of that at all," she says. "And that continues to be consistent as we go forward in the examination. So there is no evidence of a bomb. There is no evidence of sabotage to this point."

Meanwhile, Ms. Blakey says the NTSB has recovered significant parts of the wreckage. And she says they are making good progress in recovering information from the crucial two so-called black boxes, the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder.

Aviation safety experts say it may take as long as a year to determine the exact cause of the crash.