THE long-awaited report into the crash of American Airlines flight 331 at the Norman Manley International Airport on the night of Tuesday, December 22, 2009, has been delayed again.
Officials had hoped that the report would have been out by now, but a meeting that was scheduled for today to finalise the document has been postponed because all of the information needed to put it together has not come in.
Director general of Jamaica's Civil Aviation Authority, Lt Col Oscar Derby, confirmed in an interview with the Jamaica Observer that there had been another delay.
"We were supposed to have a meeting on Monday, October 8, to go through every line and to finalise the long-awaited report on AA331, but only today, the investigator in charge sent the team an e-mail to say that he has had to postpone, because he is still awaiting feedback on some information in the report from American Airlines and the FAA," Derby told the Observer on Thursday.
The aircraft, a Boeing 737-800 with 148 passengers and six crew members on its way from Miami, USA, shot off the runway, ran through the airport's perimeter fence, crossed the Port Royal road, broke in two during heavy rain, and injured 44 passengers, some of whom had to be hospitalised. The aircraft stopped within five metres from the Caribbean Sea.
"We have been, for sometime now, just weeks away from finalising, but if you finalise without the inputs of the interested parties they are likely to raise objections and you don't want any objections once the final report goes out, because it would affect the credibility of the report," Derby said.
"So everybody's concern has to be taken into consideration. We dealt with 500 comments from the NTSB (National Transport Safety Board) and we have been working through those. Having worked through them, we sent them back out to say 'is this now okay?'. The FAA and AA are still to come back with some comments," Derby added.
The retired Jamaica Defence Force officer brushed aside a suggestion that the wait was only resulting in a frustrating delay for the people involved in the incident.
"We don't see it as a frustrating delay, because whereas it might be frustrating for the public which is hungry for a report, this being Jamaica's most major accident in recent times, reports of this nature can take quite a while.
"The Concorde report took 10 years; the A340 that went off the end of the runway in Toronto took five years. This December will be three years since the AA 331 incident and it (investigation) has gone well ahead of most accidents around the world.
"We ask persons to exercise patience, because if a major country comes out with a report and there are flaws in the report, it won't be seen as a hell of a big thing. But if little Jamaica comes out with a report and there are any flaws in it, that will speak to the credibility not only of the CAA, but of the Government, the people and that island down there that produces 'Dudus' - people are going to start linking it to everything that is negative.
"So we don't want to come out with something that is not reflective of the precision with which we can do things in Jamaica and that is the only thing that is delaying it right now," Derby said.
Despite the wait, Derby maintained that Jamaica's skies were safe for air travel, adding that the island's capability and credibility remained intact.
"That incident had nothing to do with the safety of the skies. When we talk about the skies being safe, we talk about our ability to move aircraft through our airspace safely. Even in doing so, if somebody decides to be a rogue and breaks all the rules of the air, that fact doesn't make the skies unsafe - it makes an individual unsafe," he said.
"What we make sure is that the airplanes which are on our registry are safe; that the people who are fixing them and flying them do so in accordance with the regulations and are safe, and the people who are navigating and directing the airplanes through our airspace are doing so accurately with up-to-date systems," Derby stated.
Passengers on flight AA331, which originated at Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC and took off from Miami International Airport at 8:52 pm, before landing at Norman Manley International Airport around 10:22 pm, reported screaming and shouting by frightened travellers, most of whom were Jamaicans returning to their native land for Christmas celebrations.
Reports said that luggage in the overhead storage compartments broke free as the aircraft careened down the runway, ending with the plane crushing its left landing gear, separating both engines and cracking the fuselage, as rain poured through the aircraft's broken roof while passengers waited to be rescued.
The flight crew was forced to abort in-flight beverage service three times because of turbulence, one passenger reported.