Probe into AA crash continues
Director General of the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) Lieutenant Colonel Oscar Darby (second right) responds to questions from journalists yesterday, at a press conference at Jamaica House, regarding Tuesday night's crash of an American Airlines aircraft at the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston. Also pictured (from left) are Daryl Vaz, minister without Portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister, with responsibility for Information, Telecommunications and Special Projects; Minister of Transport and Works Michael Henry; and chairman of the CAA, YP Seaton. (Photo: JIS)

A probe to find out what caused American Airlines Flight 331 to plough through the perimeter fence at the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston on Tuesday night and crash land close to the sea, will continue over the next few days as local and international investigators continue to comb the wreckage for clues.

A team from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in Washington is assisting Jamaican authorities in Kingston with the investigations.

The team, which also include representatives of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), left the US capital early yesterday morning for Kingston.

NTSB public affairs spokesman Keith Holloway, told the Observer that the team will be working closely with Jamaican authorities "to determine what caused AA Flight 331 to overshot the runway at the Norman Manley International Airport before crashing".

Holloway said: "It is too early to say if poor weather played a role in the incident."

Less Dorr, spokesman for the FAA, said the agency's representative on the investigating team would lend his technical expertise and "help determine if any safety issues were compromised".

Yesterday, the badly damaged aircraft was still sitting on top of the sand dune on which it had landed with its 148 passengers Tuesday night, as officials spent the better part of the day scouring the heavily-guarded site.

The impact cracked the fuselage, crushed the left landing gear and separated both engines from the Boeing 737-800.

Lt Col Oscar Darby, director general of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) -- the agency spearheading the investigations in Jamaica -- said that there would be no speculation as to the cause of the crash as the investigators do their analysis.

"We do not make speculations in matters of this nature as we speak only to facts and until we analyse the flight data recorder we will not want to speculate as to the cause," he said

Instead, he noted that the investigation has begun full force, with the scene already photographed, the flight data recorder removed and the cockpit voice recorder was soon to be recovered.

Darby, who was addressing journalists at a press conference at Jamaica House yesterday, said there was no mis-approach as the pilot made only one attempt to land the jet on the runway at approximately 10:22 pm, amidst heavy rain.

According to Darby, representatives from the company that manufactured the plane's engine, landing gear and even the tyres would be included in the investigation.

"We will naturally look at any contributory factor but that will be secondary to the main cause factor and what will cause us in determining the cause factor will be an analysis of the flight data recorder and an analysis or reading of the voice recorder which will be in our possession and which will be sent away this afternoon (yesterday) for analysis," Darby said.

But even as officials try to put the pieces together, local officials said the incident was nothing short of a miracle.

"We should consider this quite a Christmas miracle as had the aircraft been just a little faster it would have been in the sea and just a little slower it would have ended in the road, both options of which would have been quite catastrophic," Darby said.

Yesterday, as investigators converge on the scene, the badly damaged plane was heavily guarded by members of the Jamaica Defence Force while police officers cordoned off a section of the main road in the vicinity of the airport roundabout to prevent scores of curious onlookers from getting close to the site.

The plane's engine was torn off while fuel ran freely in a trench near the aircraft.

The 737, one of the newer aircraft, according to Darby, is designed to facilitate a 90-second evacuation.

"Because the aircraft was resting on its belly on the ground there would not necessarily have been a requirement for the slides and so all emergency exits appeared to have been used in the evacuation," he said.

Meantime, Earl Richards, president of the Airports Authority, told the Observer that there was no prior communication with the control tower before the plane went off the runway.

"There was no indication of any problem and after it touched down and didn't stop that is when the tower knew something was wrong," he said.

-- With additional reporting by Harold G Bailey in New York

Aerial view of crashed American Airlines aircraft, a Boeing 737-800, near the Norman Manley International Airport, yesterday.
BY INGRID BROWN Observer senior reporter browni@jamaicaobserver.com

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