587 Blamefest

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The public hearing into the crash of an American Airlines Flight 587, which crashed in New York last November 12 killing all 260 aboard and five on the ground, has degenerated into a polarized blamefest over rudder movement. There's now no argument that five full back-and-forth deflections of the A300-600's rudder (that generation of aircraft did not have fly-by-wire rudder controls) caused the tail to rip off and make the aircraft unflyable. But Airbus maintains it told American Airlines that its training on use of the rudder was faulty and that communication indicates American knew such a failure was possible. "Additional rudder use information should be provided with emphasis on the consequence of inappropriate use of rudder," Airbus said in a letter sent to American in 1997. But the airline denies Airbus ever formally warned that moving the rudder too much at high speed could cause it to come off. "Airbus says this was a perfectly fine plane and the pilot broke the aircraft," said American spokesman Bruce Hicks. "That's hogwash." There has also been discussion about whether the plane's co-pilot, Sten Molin, who was at the controls, had a propensity to overuse the rudder. Four months after the crash, the NTSB warned all airline pilots to be gentle on the pedals.