Viewpoint: NTSB crash story challenged

Viewpoint: NTSB crash story challenged

By Joe Baker

NTSB crash story challenged

By Joe Baker

Senior Editor

American Airlines 587 had barely hit the ground before the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) were saying, “Accident!”

The media immediately jumped on the bandwagon. We were told the crash was caused by “catastrophic engine failure.” When the engines were recovered intact, it was obvious that story wouldn’t fly.

Next, we were handed the theory that “wake turbulence” from a Japan Airlines 747 in front of the Airbus A300-600 caused it to rip apart. The media had a field day with that one. Solemn-faced pundits proclaimed a detailed analysis, complete with diagrams and interviews.

Rodney Stich is an experienced pilot and a former inspector and investigator for the FAA. He has investigated many airline crashes over a career of several years.

In an e-mail to me about AA 587, he said in part: “Nearing 2,800 feet, the vertical stabilizer and rudder ripped off the aircraft. The cockpit conversation doesn’t indicate the pilots knew this. They made casual reference to the wake turbulence in normal cockpit banter. Not enough to anywhere near affect the aircraft’s integrity.

“Shortly thereafter, one engine ripped off the aircraft, accompanied by yet unknown sections of the aircraft. When that occurred, the pilot flying the aircraft would

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have experienced an immediate decrease in speed and rate of climb, probably why he called for maximum power, not knowing one engine was missing. (A flight engineer would have promptly known about that.)” Apparently, there was no flight engineer aboard. Many airlines stopped staffing them several years ago.

Stich explained that without the vertical part of the tail, there was no way to keep the aircraft flying straight and level. When the other engine went, it was just a fuselage and wings sailing out and down. He said Airbus’ philosophy is different than that of Boeing. Boeing, he said, designs the engines to rip loose from the wing and pylon if the plane is out of balance, Airbus does not. “Therefore,” Stich said, “it would take a severe force for the engines to rip loose.”

His conclusion about the likely cause of the crash? “I do not believe at this time, with the available evidence, that the vertical stabilizer had a structural flaw. I would lean heavily on believing that one or more explosions occurred somewhere in the aircraft, and that caused the initial separation of the vertical stabilizer. Further evidence will either support that theory, or it may have to be altered. Keep in mind that withholding evidence is standard for the political NTSB members.”

Joe Vialls is an ex-fighter pilot and a former member of the Society of Licensed Aeronautical Engineers and Technologists in London. He believes that this crash, coming on the heels of the WTC attack, panicked our government badly, causing it to fear another sharp drop in the stock market and other problems. (

“The fact that the entire vertical stabilizer (the big upright piece that sticks up in the back of the aircraft and carries the airline logo) separated from the fuselage cannot be stressed enough,” Vialls said, “because such an event is almost without precedence in modern aviation.

“Aircraft have lost rudders in the past (the bit at the rear of the vertical stabilizer that moves left and right), and from time to time have lost a “piece” from the top of the vertical stabilizer due to an air strike by a large bird, or a midair collision with another aircraft, but the entire vertical stabilizer? Never, so far as I know.”

Vialls said that without the vertical part of the tail, the aircraft would have whiplashed and gone into a steep dive, creating forces strong enough to rip off one of the engines.

“The wreckage at the primary crash site also confirms the cause of the crash,” he said. “It was from here that investigators recovered both engines, and both black box recorders. The latter are positioned in the tail of the Airbus A300, meaning that the fuselage traveled as far as Rockaway Beach. The aircraft did not (as some media would have you believe) somehow ‘break in half’ before it crashed.”

Vialls said scarce photos show the vertical stabilizer separated cleanly from the rest of the Airbus. “What cannot be explained away by the NTSB or the FAA is how or why the stabilizer parted company with the airframe precisely at the point where it joins the fuselage proper. …Trickier still for the NTSB, FAA and Airbus Industries, will be explaining to the general public why, with prima facie evidence proving catastrophic separation along a critical attachment line, the FAA and Airbus Industries failed to immediately ground all Airbus A300-600 models worldwide.”

Vialls said grounding is not only normal procedure, but a legal requirement. It was done several days after the crash. He added that in order not to ground all Airbus models, the FAA and the manufacturer would have to be convinced this was a unique incident unlikely to occur under normal conditions with any other Airbus. The only condition that meets that requirement, he said, is a terrorist attack.

He also lambasted the media’s explanation of the crash. “Currently, the U.S. government is fixating on the co-pilot of Flight 587, noting ‘wake turbulence’ from a Japan Airlines 747 ahead of them. The media already has taken its cue and is drawing elaborate diagrams of the Airbus tearing itself to

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pieces in the ‘tornado-like’ wake left behind the JAL 747. This is absolute rubbish, perhaps best illustrated by some of the higher forces all aircraft are designed to withstand.”

Vialls then said that a number of years ago, he flew a Mach 2 jet fighter. He was part of a diamond formation which appeared and performed at air shows and other occasions. He said he flew behind and slightly below the leader, and the wake turbulence from the leader’s aircraft hit his vertical stabilizer with 20,000 pounds of thrust at a distance of only 100 feet and speeds up to 400 miles an hour.

“Do you really believe we would have done it at all if there was the slightest chance of the vertical stabilizer falling off? Though wake turbulence can be hazardous at times, it really only poses a serious threat to tiny lightweight aircraft such as two-seat Cessna and Piper trainers. The notion that residual wake turbulence from a jumbo jet one-and-a-half miles ahead of AA 587 could have torn its vertical stabilizer off, is absurd. If that were even remotely possible, most of the world’s fleet of “heavy” jets would have crashed years ago,” Vialls said.

NTSB chairwoman Marion Blakey said last Wednesday: “There is no evidence of any bomb, of any sabotage, at this point.”

But hours after the crash, CNN reported: “The Associated Press is saying the Bush administration says the FBI believes there was an explosion aboard the plane, and they are investigating its source.”

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That statement was denied by an administration spokesman, but eyewitnesses claimed otherwise. ABC radio broadcast many of these comments. “I saw an enormous flash where the wing meets the plane,” one woman said. “I don’t know if it was fire or an explosion. It appeared that debris fell from the left side (of the plane).”

Another said: “The right wing seemed to catch fire and explode. The wing was on fire with a trail of smoke behind it.” A third reported: “I saw the plane across Jamaica Bay. It was trying to ascend, and then it just exploded.”

A man named Rod McHale told the New York Post: “I keep hearing the authorities talk about an engine falling off the plane and (then) an explosion. That’s not what I heard and saw. There was an explosion, and then the engine fell off. I’m convinced it’s terrorism.”

Aviation expert John Nance, speaking on ABC radio, said of the wake turbulence theory: “I think a lot of folks jumped on that last night, I think, misunderstanding the reality that these aircraft fly through severe turbulence. It could be the initiating event of something that was about to happen, but it would not be the cause itself.”

Vialls, referring to comments by the NTSB spokeswoman, said: “What else could bureaucrat Marion Blakey say? One is reminded of the words of George Orwell, which now mock us from the grave: ‘During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.’”

The operative principle here was stated by one of our founding fathers. “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance. And a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”—James Madison.

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