By Alexander Dworkowitz
As soon as the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 was reported on radio and television, the first question most people throughout the nation asked was whether terrorism downed the Airbus, killing all 260 people on board.
But a Queens aviation expert urged caution about speculating over what caused the crash, suggesting that a mechanical failure could very well explain the events.
“At this point, it’s pure speculation,” said Herbert Armstrong, vice president for academic affairs at the College of Aeronautics’ LaGuardia Airport campus Monday afternoon. “It seems consistent with an accident rather than an intentional act. It follows the pattern of similar engine failures.”
With the quick recovery of the flight data recorder, Armstrong said he thought there was a good chance that the mystery of the crash would soon be solved.
At a news conference this week, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he thought the answers would quickly be found.
“To have this amount of material is rare,” he said.
One engine belonging to he twin-engine plane landed several blocks from the main wreckage in Belle Harbor, apparently falling from the plane before it hit the ground.
Armstrong pointed to two crashes in which the engine became disconnected from the plane, which he thought were similar to the crash of Flight 587. In 1978, a DC10 lost an engine while taking off from Chicago, and in 1989, a malfunction of the engine blades of another DC10 also caused the engine to separate from the craft.
Many analysts have suggested that in putting the National Transportation Safety Board in charge of the investigation rather than the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. government is leaning toward the idea that terrorism was not the cause of the crash.
Armstrong said there have been eight fatal events in the history of the Airbus since it first took flight in 1972, but if mechanical failure is found to be the cause of the Belle Harbor disaster, it would be the first time mechanical failure of an Airbus was responsible for a death.
John Nance, an aviation expert for ABC, pointed to the fact that the wing was found in the bay on the channel.
“That would be very hard to explain just by means of a mechanical failure,” he said.
But Armstrong disagreed.
“I can envision a scenario where a catastrophic engine failure causes the engine to come off the aircraft and takes a major section of the wing,” said Armstrong. “I haven’t seen it happen before, but I can understand that it might happen.”
Armstrong envisioned three general scenarios behind the accident. Most likely is the possibility of internal engine failure; structural failure is a second possibility, he said. As a third possibility, a bird or some other object could have been sucked into the engine of the plane, he said.
Armstrong said he thought the Airbus was a decent aircraft.
“I believe its accident rate is comparable with other commercial aircraft. It’s right in the median range.”
Reach Reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.