|12 Nov 2001 @ 08:54, by Eyes to the Skies UK|
AN AMERICAN Airlines jetliner on its way to the Dominican Republic with 255 people aboard crashed moments after takeoff from Kennedy Airport in a residential neighborhood Monday, setting homes on fire. There was no immediate word on the number of deaths or injuries.
Bush administration officials said the FBI believed there was an explosion aboard the plane, and was investigating whether it was the result of a mechanical failure or sabotage.
The city was put on high alert, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said. Fighter jets were seen flying over the area.
Bill Schumann of the Federal Aviation Administration said there was no immediate indication of what caused the crash, which came two months after terrorists in two hijacked airliners brought down the World Trade Center.
All metropolitan area airports - Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark, N.J. - were closed after the crash, which took place in the Rockaway section of Queens. All bridges and tunnels into the city were closed except to emergency vehicles. The United Nations was partially locked down.
In Washington, President Bush met with advisers, seeking details of the crash.
Flight 587, an Airbus A300 that can hold 275 people, went down shortly after 9 a.m in the waterfront neighborhood 15 miles from Manhattan, setting buildings on fire in a densely populated section is home to many firefighters who were among the dead and the rescuers at the Trade Center. A plume of thick, black smoke could be seen miles away.
The FAA said there were 246 passengers and nine crew members aboard the plane.
In Washington, a senior administration official said that no threats against airplanes had been received and that the pilot reported no trouble before the crash.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said intelligence agencies, the FBI and the Federal Aviation Administration were reviewing all recent intelligence for any signs that terrorism was involved, but there was no immediate evidence pointing to an attack.
''They are comparing information to see if it provides any insight into what transpired. At this point, there's no indication of a terrorist attack, but it certainly can't be ruled out in the current environment,'' the official said.
At the Pentagon two defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said no additional fighters had been dispatched to the New York area and that the entire matter was being handled by the FAA as a domestic disaster with no apparent military implications.
The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team to investigate.
Giuliani canceled his morning events and headed to the scene, where he said: ''People should remain calm. We're just being tested one more time and we're going pass this test too.''
''Now we should focus all our efforts on finding survivors,'' Giuliani said.
Asked what he thought when he heard about the crash, he said:
'''Oh my God,' that's the first thing what went into my mind, 'Oh my God,' and I just passed a church in which I had been to, I think, 10 funerals. Rockaway was particularly hard hit in proportion to the people we lost.''
Triage centers were set up a high school and an elementary school, both of which were closed for the Veterans Day holiday.
Planes were being diverted to other airports, and Delta Air Lines spokeswoman Peggy Estes said the airline was working to account for all its planes.
The plane had been scheduled to leave at 8 a.m. and arrive in Santo Domingo at 12:48 p.m.
Witnesses reported debris falling from sky and told the Fox News Channel four homes were on fire.
''All of the sudden, I see an engine fall off, and it went to the side, and in 10, 15 seconds it went down,'' witness Kevin O'Rourke told WABC-TV. ''An engine fell off.''
Another witness, John Maroney, 47, said the engine plummeted onto a Texaco station near his house, and pieces of plane were a couple of blocks away.
''That's probably what shook up up from our beds. The whole house jumped,'' he said. ''We were all out there with fire extinguishers and hoses, but we couldn't do much.''
Witness Phyllis Paul said she heard the plane's egine. ''It was very, very loud. Because of what happened Sept. 11, it gave me a chill,'' she told CNN. ''It was getting louder and louder and I looked out the window. I saw a piece of metal falling from the sky.''
The World Trade Center was destroyed by two Boeing 767s hijacked out of Boston's Logan Airport. One of the planes was operated by American, the other by United.
Airbus said American Airlines has a fleet of 35 A300s.
12/11 (15:04) WITNESSES TELL OF SHOCK AT CRASH
The first eyewitness reports following the crash of the American Airlines jet told how large amounts of smoke filled the air and the disbelief from the public.
Gary Toms, associate editor of The Wave magazine, whose offices are close to the site in Queens, New York, told CNN: "I can see just a lot of smoke from the area. Emergency vehicles are still racing past the office to the location.
"People are standing in the street - everybody is basically stunned and in a state of shock."
Beverly Browne, from Brooklyn said she saw white smoke coming from the plane before it crashed.
"The wings were going backwards and forwards like it was trying to balance itself. There was white smoke coming out of it.
"It just couldn't seem to stabilise itself.
"The next thing I knew it had crashed."
An eyewitness told CNN that she heard a loud explosion and reported seeing pieces of "silvery metal" falling from the sky.
She added: "I didn't hear an explosion at first ... I heard an explosion - a big bang - boom - in front of the house."
Another eyewitness said she had seen a "fireball" as the plane hit a building behind her home.
The unnamed woman said: "I saw this hit the house right behind my house. It seemed so low that I was ducking, almost. Then there was this enormous fireball."
She added: "It is utter terror here, everybody's just in shock. It's hard to believe, you don't think it's going to hit this close to home."
Witness Eddie Niedes said he saw an engine on the wing blow up seconds before the plane plunged to the ground.
"It was flying fine with no problems. It seemed to be on a normal flightpath.
"Then the engine on the right side blew up and it went straight down into a nosedive. There were flames on the right hand side.
"It was very fast. I don't think the pilot had any choice but to go straight down."
He added: "It was very very frightening. I was watching the plane from my office all the way along and it blew up right in front of my eyes."
Cinny Kennard (correct), who was at JFK waiting for a flight to Los Angeles when the plane crashed, said the reaction in the airport was one of "Oh no, not again". =
People had rushed to phones and computer terminals to call or e-mail loved ones to tell them they were safe, she said, but added that the atmosphere was "solemn".
Keith Gill, who lives close to the crash site, said six or seven houses caught fire.
"It was like dominos. Once one went, the next one soon caught alight. Thankfully there were lots of people around to help the police stop it from spreading too far."
He said local people came out with garden hoses and even bottles of mineral water to try to contain the blaze before fire crews arrived.
Eyewitness Ethan Moses said he had seen the plane climbing in the sky after take-off.
"It was in a climbing position and when I looked up I saw fire on the left side of the engine," he told CNN.
The wing appeared to separate from the rest of the plane, which veered to the left and then plunged into a nose dive, he said.
"It was travelling to the left slightly and then it just nose dived straight down," Mr Moses said, adding that fire spread on the ground, moving from house to house within seconds.