NEW YORK, Nov. 12 (UPI) -- An American Airlines A300 Airbus carrying 246 passengers and nine crew members crashed in a residential neighborhood of New York's Queens borough shortly after takeoff from JFK airport Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
The crash of American Flight 587, en route to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, set off fires in a number of buildings, with the fire scene encompassing a four-block area.
It appeared that one of two General Electric CF-6 engines on the plane fell off and landed in the parking lot of a gas station. "It's clear that an engine appeared to drop from the plane before the plane crashed into a densely populated area," said Jerry Hauer, of city's emergency management office.
The flight, which was to have taken off at 8:40 a.m., took off from JFK's 31-left runway at 9:13 a.m. and the FAA said the plane was airborne "minutes" before it lost contact with air controllers at 9:17 a.m. and crashed across Jamaica Bay, some 5 miles from the airport.
FAA spokesman William Shuman said there was "no indication of foul play" but the FAA issued a "ground stop" in a 25-mile radius, meaning no flights would land or take off from White Plains, La Guardia, Newark and JFK airports.
While witnesses said they heard an explosion, Shuman said the explosion detection system was in place and operating at JFK at the time of the flight.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the accident was being treated as an accident. But Fleischer added: "We have not ruled anything in, not ruled anything out."
The National Transportation Safety Board said it had established a "go team," which was expected Monday in New York. The NTSB said it would continue to take the lead in the investigation unless there is an indication of foul play.
Dale Morris, spokesman for American Airlines, told United Press International: "We're sure there are casualties" but added he did not know how many and that he had "just a preliminary list" of passengers from which the airline was working. He said the airline had not received any threats prior to the crash.
At least 15 people had been treated at various hospitals for minor wounds and smoke inhalation but witnesses said they had not seen any survivors pulled from the wreckage.
The crash comes two months and a day after two planes, one of them an American Airlines flight, crashed into the World Trade Center towers.
In Washington, a Pentagon official said there was no indication of a distress call before the aircraft crashed. Fighter jets were flying combat air patrols in the area but did not respond to the incident, he said.
Fighter jets have been flying almost constant combat air patrols over New York and Washington since Sept. 11, and NATO dispatched five Airborne Warning and Control System surveillance aircraft to monitor the East Coast.
In the wake of the terrorist attacks, President Bush gave two major generals at North American Aerospace Defense Command the power to direct fighter jets to shoot down civilian airliners that have been taken by hijackers.
A statement by the Toulouse, France-based Airbus Industrie confirmed the American Airlines plane was one of its A-300 aircraft. Airbus spokesman Jerome Rondeau told UPI he had no knowledge of previous mechanical problems involving the aircraft.
The crash area is called Far Rockaway, a residential area in the borough of Queens, a thin peninsula from the mainland sticking west southwesterly into the Atlantic Ocean and across Jamaica Bay from John F. Kennedy International Airport. The neighborhood was described as populated by many Irish-Americans and firefighters.
"Rockaway, Staten Island was particularly hard hit with the number of firefighters lost and city workers killed in the World Trade Center and as I came in I saw a church where I must have been 20 times for funeral and wakes," said New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. "We will do everything we can do for these people -- New York is being tested one more time. We're going to pass this test, too."
By noon, all bridges and tunnels in and out of New York City, which had been closed, were open except for three in the surrounding area of the plane crash -- Cross Bay, Marine Park and Atlantic Beach Bridges, according to the city's emergency office said.
The United Nations, which had been locked down, was reopened to pedestrian traffic, with delegates and staff instructed to use the East 46th Street entrance.
Eyewitnesses described the plane's descent as a nosedive into the ground. "I observed a nose dive, no fire and pieces falling," said a man identified only as Andrew, who watched the plane crash.
An unidentified man, holding his head in disbelief, said in broken English, "I see plane fall down, straight."
A woman who lived in the area told WCBS-TV she did not hear an explosion. Susan Locke, who lives five blocks from the scene said: "It sounded like a rumble, I didn't hear an explosion. I looked up and saw a plane head straight down. It nosed down."
A New York Fire Department spokesman said there was a five-alarm fire with an original approximate address at Beach 133rd Street and Newport Avenue and a three alarm fire nearby at Beach 128th Street. About 400 firefighters are involved in fighting the fires.
A UPI photographer, Ezio Peterson, was taking a taxicab to the scene of the crash and made it through several police checkpoints but was stopped well away from the site. Police told him it was because his cabdriver -- a 38-year-old Indian man who has driven cabs in New York for seven years -- appeared Middle Eastern. The photographer said police had four or five cab drivers detained because, police said, no one who appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent was being allowed closer to the site or to leave the area.
A family center was being established for family members of those on the American Airlines flight at the Rockaway Ramada Inn. The airline also established a phone number for family members at 1-800-245-0999.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair appeared shocked as he addressed a news conference welcoming Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee.
He said, "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims and the American people at this time. I don't think it is sensible to say anything further."
The U.N. Security Council, just before holding a meeting of foreign ministers on counter terrorism, issued a statement about the crash, expressing "deep distress and shock."
Ambassador Patricia Durrant of Jamaica, the council's president for November, read aloud the statement, saying: "On behalf of the members of the council I wish to convey our heartfelt sympathy and condolences to the government and people of the United States, and to the families of those who lost their lives in this terrible incident."
(With reporting by Alex Cukan and William M. Reilly in New York; John Hendel, Mark Benjamin and Ellen Beck in Washington; and Elizabeth Bryant in Paris.)