Two months following the 9/11
attacks on the World Trade Center, a plane crashed in Belle Harbor,
Queens and reignited the fear and broken hearts of Americans. On
November 12, 2001, American Airlines Flight 587 (Airbus A300) made its
ascent into a clear blue sky and was bound for Santo Domingo,
Dominican Republic with 260 people on board. At approximately 9:17
a.m., the plane spiraled out of control and crashed in Belle Harbor,
killing all 260 people on board and five people on the ground. It was
difficult for many New Yorkers to let go of the sense of paranoia that
still existed from the 9/11 attack, resulting in many believing that
the crash was a terrorist attack. However, the National Transportation
Safety Board (NTSB) had a different theory for why the crash
The NTSB report explained that the overuse of the rudder mechanism by the captain caused the plane's vertical stabilizer (tail fin) and both engines to detach from the plane; an unlikely scenario. Without the vertical stabilizer, the plane spiraled out of control and crashed in the Queens neighborhood of Belle Harbor. The pilot was responding to turbulence caused by another plane, Japan Airlines (Boeing 747) which had taken off minutes before. Because the Airbus A300 had an unusually sensitive rudder control system, an untrained pilot could easily make the mistake of using too much force on the rudder pedal. This is exactly what happened in the case of Flight 587; not only did the pilot apply excessive pressure to the rudder pedal, he also used the rudder excessively. To combat the turbulence from the overhead plane, the pilot pushed the rudder to the right, causing it to sway. To counteract the turbulence caused by his misuse of the rudder pedal, the pilot pushed the rudder to the left. The combination of strong air and the overuse of the rudder caused the vertical Stabilizer to snap off in midair. Within seconds, the engines separated from the plane, causing fuel leakage, which resulted in the fiery explosion at the crash site.
American Airlines subsequently blamed Airbus for manufacturing a plane with unusually sensitive rudder controls. They claimed that the majority of planes require an application of strong pressure to the rudder pedal to control the plane. But most experts agree that the crash was caused by improper training of the pilot by American Airlines. After a thorough investigation by the NTSB, it was determined that the design of the tail fin was up to standards. Since the crash, American Airlines has modified its pilot training program to include a better understanding of the rudder mechanism.