New York Times
Not again. A jittery New York steeled itself for another day of unimaginable horror yesterday as another airliner rained terror on the city. The crash of American Airlines Flight 587 shortly after takeoff from Kennedy Airport led to an immediate closing of all area airports and major bridges and tunnels, an evacuation of the Empire State Building and a partial lockdown of the United Nations.
Precisely what brought down the airliner, an Airbus A-300 bound for the Dominican Republic, may not be known for some time, but the early sense that this tragedy involved a mechanical failure rather than an act of terrorism seemed to help soothe public nerves. It is a striking commentary on the nation's altered state that news of an airplane accident could come as somewhat of a relief.
It shouldn't, of course. The loss of the 260 people aboard the plane and those who died in the Rockaway section of Queens when the plane fell on their world is not minimized by the fact that this disaster may not have been deliberate. Right now, New Yorkers who veered between bottomless grief and frustrated anger after Sept. 11 are left with only the grief. We will wait for the National Transportation Safety Board to learn whether there is someone to blame along with all the victims to mourn.
Whatever the cause of yesterday's tragedy, it is bound to make the American public even more uncomfortable about returning to the air, and that could have devastating consequences for the nation's battered economy and the industry's finances. Even before yesterday's crash, American Airlines had said it was losing between $10 million and $15 million a day as a result of the slowdown in travel this fall.
The task of rebuilding confidence in the traveling public will now be harder than ever. The airline industry has a good record of learning from tragedy when it comes to human error or mechanical failure. Unfortunately, the record is decidedly more mixed when it comes to protecting against terrorist attacks. Regardless of what caused yesterday's crash, Congress needs to assert federal control over airport security to restore confidence in the nation's commercial aviation. House Republicans must drop their ideological opposition to a federal security force at airports, so that the administration can move on to address aviation's serious vulnerabilities. Otherwise, any time a plane crashes, people's thoughts will naturally turn to terrorism.
Again, it was around 9 a.m. eastern time, with bright blue skies over New York City, when word came of yet another American Airlines jetliner crash. In the high-alert atmosphere of post-Sept. 11, the possibility of a horrid reprise leapt to every mind: Would another jetliner smash down somewhere in a few minutes, and then still another? The fiery plunge of Flight 587 -- with 251 passengers and nine crew members aboard, all presumed dead -- ignited new anxiety about terrorist attack; but there were no immediate indications of criminal involvement. While the FBI pursued that point, the government response appears to be that accorded to aviation accidents. The National Transportation Safety Board assumed its role as lead agency; Board Chairman Marion C. Blakey said yesterday that "all information we have currently is that this is an accident."
In fact, nobody knows. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer rightly cautioned against imputing causes at this point. Conspiracy theories are inevitable, and the desire for immediate answers is understandable. But it may take months for safety experts to complete their work. Neither they nor FBI agents should rule out any possible explanation prematurely.
What is clear is that this tragedy is another terrible blow: first, of course, to the families of those aboard, but also to New York City, especially the Rockaway Beach neighborhood still mourning the loss of as many as 100 residents -- most of them firefighters or employees at the Cantor Fitzgerald bond firm. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, fresh from a number of funerals along these streets, was again on the scene with words of sympathy and encouragement. Several neighbors were reported missing. The crash is yet another blow to the airline industry, and especially American Airlines, already suffering its biggest loss in its corporate history, with 20,000 jobs cut since Sept. 11. The crash is more than likely to intensify fears about air travel just as the holiday season begins. The best way to begin restoring confidence is in the hands of Congress, which should pass legislation now -- not in days or weeks -- to improve airport security. What matters most to travelers is immediate passage of a bill that would produce a highly trained, well-equipped force under a single agency dedicated solely to safety. Whatever the evidence may reveal about the cause of yesterday's crash, there is no excuse for any further delay.
Yesterday morning, New Yorkers still reeling from September 11 were visited with another shocking tragedy when American Airlines flight 587 crashed into a middle-class neighborhood of Queens shortly after taking off from Kennedy International Airport.
Two-hundred sixty-four persons aboard the airplane and a still unknown number of residents of the Rockaways neighborhood almost certainly perished in what preliminary indications suggest was an awful accident. An anonymous senior official within the administration said that this did not appear to be a terrorist attack, while anonymous officials at the Pentagon reported that this tragedy seems to have no military implications. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer was more circumspect, telling reporters, "I want to be very cautious about any conclusions at this early time about what is the cause of this ... We have not ruled anything in, not ruled anything out."
To that end, it is appropriate that the National Transportation and Safety Board is taking the lead in the investigation. Piecing together all the details of what happened will be an exacting task, and determining the exact cause of the crash may well take some time, especially in the absence of a message from a terrorist organization.
Still, the investigation appears to be proceeding at an appropriate, if not astonishing pace. Rescue workers were quickly on the scene, the fires caused by the crash were put out quickly and the flight data recorder was found within a few hours. Almost as importantly, the public was supplied with plenty of information, most of which was delivered with cautionary caveats. Even before the recorder was found, reporters had been briefed by spokesmen from the NTSB, the Federal Aviation Administration, American Airlines and the White House. Of course, reporters also received an early briefing from New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. In the long term, federal measures may be appropriate if it turns out that foul play was indeed involved. The rush to investigate, however, should not be translated into a call to legislate.
What is horribly clear is that the families of those on the plane have been touched by the unexpected loss of a loved one. Another New York neighborhood has been devastated, one whose residents were still in mourning for their loss of at least 70 neighbors on September 11.
Yet, it is also clear that the residents of Rockaways will recover and rebuild. Many of them rushed to help put out the fire, and many more will help neighbors suddenly without a home. As Rockaways resident Marie Rudolph said: "We'll get by. We're down, we're not out."
That resilient response shouldn't be surprising. After all, the residents of Rockaways are New Yorkers -- and even more, they're Americans.
A nation on edge, a city on edge were sorely tested again yesterday with the shocking crash of an airliner shortly after takeoff from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.
The national anguish and terror of Sept. 11 were revisited with the fiery destruction of an American Airlines Airbus A300 carrying 255 people as it fell into Queens neighborhoods just after takeoff.
The cause of the tragedy was not known. Air disaster investigations typically take many months. There was no early sign of terrorist involvement, or of pilot distress.
But coming two months after hijacked airliners destroyed the World Trade Center towers and killed thousands of people, the terrorist connection seemed inescapable. Disbelief was replaced by the numbing persuasion that this type of horrific assault could reoccur despite heightened security.
All New York-area airports were closed, as were tunnels and bridges into the city. The United Nations was partially locked down. Fighter jets overflew the sites of burning wreckage. This, too, has become the expected response in the enduring emergency.
The incident will add to the urgency of congressional action on overhaul of airport security systems nationwide. Political posturing over government or private screening agencies becomes more repugnant, as an impatient country looks for fundamental improvements in air safety.
The other reality is that aircraft accidents may happen even in good weather and despite rigid maintenance and inspection precautions. Mechanical failures occur, as do unforeseen quirks of fate, regardless of an aircraft's solid safety record.
The National Transportation Safety Board, not a law enforcement agency, is heading the investigation. It may discover sinister causes, but that is not the present indication. Fears are not easily calmed in these times, but the nation must show its fortitude in supporting a clear-headed look for answers to this latest air tragedy.
The television footage of black smoke smudging a pristine New York sky couldn't help but stoke fears of another Sept. 11. It is a measure of how seared Americans are by events of the last nine weeks that many of us, without much thought, murmured to ourselves, "I hope it's only a plane crash."
Only a plane crash. As if we have pushed these bombastic disasters down our hierarchy of fear, well below a new entry: terrorist attacks.
The emotional impact of plane crashes doesn't come from the death toll; in a nation where some 110 people die in motor vehicle crashes on an average day, even a casualty list as long as that from American Airlines Flight 587 isn't a statistically shocking event. Instead, the power of an air disaster has always been that it reminds us of how random the fates can be, how thin the line between ordinary life and non-negotiable death.
But that was not the reflex on most Americans' minds Monday morning. The events that quickly followed only heightened anxiety over whether another shoe had dropped: bridges and tunnels to New York City blockaded, the area's airports closed, the Empire State Building evacuated, fighter jets scrambled overhead, the president quietly handed a note during a meeting.
Still, the question on every tongue may not be answered definitively for days or weeks or months. Early speculation on the causes of airliner crashes is notoriously suspect; no matter how appealing the first-day theories look, cases like that of TWA Flight 800 in 1996 show how vexing the effort to reconstruct what went wrong can be.
A few cynics will say Americans overreacted Monday morning. In truth the reactions of most people, and their government, were altogether appropriate. There was no public panic, and Tom Ridge, the federal government's new homeland security director, spoke with officials of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Defense and other agencies to coordinate an instant response. If the nation is better prepared today than it was Sept. 10 to quickly evaluate unexpected events, that's worthy of praise, not scorn.
But in the quest to understand what caused Monday's crash, we shouldn't look past its carnage. Many of those aboard the wide-body Airbus A300 were among the 455,000 natives of the Dominican Republic whose vibrancy and initiative have helped enliven New York. That so many lives were lost broke countless hearts in both nations. "Oh my God," said Miriam Fajardo, who had awaited the arrival of her sister and three nephews on the flight. "I hadn't seen them in eight years. Now they're gone."
This was a disaster, too, in the middle-class Rockaway Beach neighborhood of Queens, which lost scores of people--many of them firefighters or employees of the Cantor Fitzgerald bond firm--in the attack on the World Trade Center. After fire and death rained down Monday, Gary Toms, an editor at a community weekly newspaper, poignantly summed up the compound nature of the trauma: "We were still trying to bury a number of our heroes."
It is there, with the families of the victims and all the other people directly touched by Monday's crash, that our attention belongs. Employees of American Airlines, too, have again lost colleagues and friends.
Rather than draining our reserve of sympathy and prayer, Sept. 11 has reminded many people of the value of those two forces. Smart minds will unravel what caused the crash, and whether there is reason to suspect it was more than a mechanical failure. The rest of us can focus instead on the lives that Monday's disaster devastated.
Dallas Morning News
"Oh, my God."
That's what New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said when he learned that American Airlines Flight 587 had fallen from the sky on Monday.
People everywhere reacted with similar shock. Another commercial airplane had crashed in the United States' financial and cultural capital during morning rush hour. Just two months and a day earlier, Islamic terrorists had crashed two commercial airplanes into the World Trade Center, turning the complex's twin skyscrapers into smoky rubble and killing thousands. It seemed as if terrorists had defiantly penetrated the improved airport security that was installed after Sept. 11 and targeted still-grieving New York for more senseless death and destruction.
But as the eerily familiar day wore on, it became apparent that terrorists probably did not cause the airplane to crash. Although government investigators were still trying to determine the cause, people were already consoling themselves that terrorists probably had not struck again. Regardless of the cause, they were left with the nagging, troubling question: Is it safe to fly?
Nobody needed this -- not New Yorkers, not jittery travelers, not President Bush, and certainly not the airlines, which had been hurting economically even before Sept. 11. It seems a foregone conclusion that more people will choose not to fly, at least until or if investigators rule out terrorism as a cause. The investigators should be thorough. However, they should try to make a speedy determination so that the airlines (and their regulators) can make the appropriate security or engineering adjustments and return to normality (or some near version thereof) as quickly as possible. The grants and loans provided by Congress after Sept. 11 should be an invaluable help to the economically important industry.
If terrorists did cause the crash, security chiefs at Kennedy International Airport will have some explaining to do, as will Congress, which is taking much too long to pass the airport security bill that it promised after Sept. 11. Even if terrorists were not responsible, the federal government still must develop a comprehensive security plan that prevents them from again using large fuel-laden commercial airplanes as weapons of mass destruction.
The nation's sympathy must once again go out to the people of New York. New Yorkers are giving the nation a continuing example of courage and poise under duress. May their burden lighten.
Des Moines Register
It feels as if there's no such thing as an accident anymore. When American Airlines Flight 587 crashed Monday in Queens, the nation's heart skipped a beat. News that "another plane crashed in New York" traveled fast through workplaces across the country. The inevitable implication was terrorism.
And an already wounded city took another punch. Airports, tunnels and bridges closed. All emergency workers were called to duty.
Of all the cities in the world where an accidental plane crash could occur, why did it have to happen in New York?
Witnesses on the streets of New York told what they saw on national television. It felt like Sept. 11 again.
Some witnesses said a wing fell off. Others said it was an engine. They gave various accounts of the explosion, how far the plane fell and what they saw. But the details didn't seem as important as simply knowing that the airplane hadn't been hijacked by terrorists.
It was more proof that we're a changed people in the United States.
And it feels as if everything bad that happens now has a cause, when, in fact, random tragedies will still occur, as they always have.
The shock of them just hits harder now.
Los Angeles Times
There's no evidence thus far that Monday's crash of an American Airlines Airbus A-300 jet in New York, killing all ... on board, was anything but an accident. Nevertheless, the crash of the twin-engine jet into a beachfront neighborhood in Queens was -- inevitably -- associated in Americans' minds with the terrorist aircraft attacks on the World Trade Center Sept. 11.
It can't help that when Americans got the horrible news Monday morning, air safety had become a political punching bag. Washington has spent the last two months either bickering or dithering about national air safety. More than the federal government, the airlines continue to control the agenda for what are acceptable standards for safety.
To restore Americans' faith in flying, Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta and his boss, President Bush, must sharply depart from a federal history of bowing to the airlines, which have resisted close oversight. Yes, better security costs money and passengers would pay for it. But there's no rational other side to the argument. Although Mineta recently announced "zero tolerance" for lax security, that means little without the concrete, mandatory and swift reforms in a bill by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, that the Senate passed 100 to 0 last month. House-Senate conferees are now trying to reconcile the Hutchison bill with a lax measure, recently passed in the House, that would leave security in the hands of private companies hired by cost-conscious airlines.
Bush has said he is open to compromise, but the House version is full of loopholes. The Senate version should rule. It imposes concrete solutions like requiring that airports screen all checked baggage and put in stringent controls to stop unauthorized people from acquiring airport staff ID cards. Currently, airports need not tell the Federal Aviation Administration about missing security badges until more than 5 percent of them are unaccounted for. Only one of every 20 checked bags on domestic flights is screened for explosives. While Europe is nearing 100 percent screening of baggage without causing significant delays or price increases, the FAA's target date for that is 2014.
Washington will also have to be more assertive about overseeing aircraft maintenance and repairs. Currently, federal regulations place the burden on airlines to oversee maintenance. Airlines, to save time and money, have increasingly out-sourced maintenance work to independent repair stations. In recent years, mechanics and pilots have complained that such facilities are substandard. Slack maintenance, for instance, was cited in the crash of an Alaska Airlines jet off the Southern California coast last year.
Regardless of the cause of Monday's crash, the tragedy should remind federal leaders of the urgent need to close holes in aviation safety. Americans -- especially the "New York people (who) have suffered mightily ... and suffer again," as President Bush put it Monday -- have understandably grown skittish about the skies.
Over the years, flying has proven safer than driving per mile traveled, especially for long trips. But it's reasonable to demand that the federal government do more to both prevent accidents and protect passengers from terrorism. Washington so far has not met that high obligation.
Americans held their breath yesterday as word about the crash of an American Airlines jet was broadcast on the morning news. First assumptions that the crash was related to the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks dissipated slowly as clues developed during the day suggesting that an accident, not terrorism, may have been the cause.
Yet the crash was an uncomfortable reminder of how important air security is to the nation's fragile emotional and economic health in the wake of the terror attacks.
No matter its cause, the crash could extract a toll on the nation's confidence in flying -- already at low ebb -- and, consequently, on the economy, too. Congress and the president should draw motivation from the day's tragic events to resolve their differences on pending air-security legislation. And President Bush should reassure the nation that he is doing all he can not only to move an effective air-security agenda forward but also to bolster the overall safety of flying. Both are factors in the nation's eroded confidence about flying.
Most of the early clues from the investigation point to mechanical failure rather than terrorism. But the extraordinary precautions taken when news of the crash was broadcast were clear signs of how the ongoing anthrax scare and terrorism events of two months ago have changed the country in fundamental ways. The crash immediately sent the country into high alert: All flights in and around New York were grounded; jet fighters were scrambled to patrol the skies; tunnels and bridges were closed; and the Empire State Building was evacuated.
Although Americans breathed a sigh of relief that terrorism may not be involved, the crash -- even if determined to be accidental -- is a catastrophic, tragic event. More than 255 persons are believe to have perished in the plane and on the ground. The Airbus A300 is a relatively new plane and has had a strong safety record. A spokesman's description of a recent overhaul of the left engine, which is believed to have fallen off during takeoff, would be consistent with a mechanical mishap; and will be a primary focus of investigators.
New York Newsday
Hours after terrorists took down New York's Twin Towers on Sept. 11, everyone was saying that the world had changed. But only yesterday did it become clear that one change in particular had taken place: From now on, any major air crash, especially one in New York, will be followed immediately by a twinge of dread that it may have been the work of terrorists - and then by a breath of relief if it appears not to have been.
Given the one-two nature of the assault on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by jetliners fueled up for long flights, the first official responses to the crash of American Flight 587 after it left Kennedy Airport for the Dominican Republic were the right ones: Clear the airspace above the city; close the region's airports; shut down bridges and tunnels except for emergency vehicles. But as the day wore on and no evidence emerged that terrorists were involved, those precautions were no longer deemed necessary. It began to look as if a mechanical failure was to blame, not human malevolence.
Yet the presumed death toll in Queens yesterday was horrendous: 260 people were aboard the plane - more than the number killed on the Concorde outside Paris last year, in the Swissair crash off Nova Scotia in 1998 or on TWA Flight 800 off Long Island in 1996. And the firefighters who rushed to douse the flames on the Rockaway Peninsula yesterday put their lives on the line just as those at the World Trade Center did two months ago.
It was Mayor Rudolph Giuliani who found the right words, as he so often has since Sept. 11, to acknowledge his city's weariness while stiffening its determination to endure. "We are just being tested one more time," he said, "and we are going to pass this test too."
But it's not just the mayor's constituents who are being tested, or even the firefighters, police officers, emergency workers and others who go to jobs in the city but back home to the suburbs at night. A whole country's resolution is being tested, too, as are its leaders. Let's hope the government responds as well to future tests as it did to yesterday's.
San Francisco Chronicle
The federal government almost instantly declared that yesterday's airliner crash in New York City was not an act of terrorism. The recovery of the black boxes and inspection of charred parts may allow investigators to reach that conclusion more definitively in the days head.
There was no reason to doubt the government's initial judgment that a catastrophic mechanical failure brought down the jetliner with more than 250 people aboard yesterday.
It will be far more difficult, however, for Americans to make an emotional separation between the crash of Flight 587 and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
In a cruel coincidence, the American Airlines flight went down in the same city where two hijacked planes slammed into the World Trade Center twin towers on September 11. Worse yet, the wounded Flight 587 spiraled into a residential area, adding to the casualties. And it was a neighborhood that experienced a heavy personal toll from Sept. 11. Scores of residents from the Rockaway neighborhood of Queens -- home to many firefighters and financial workers -- were killed in the terrorist assaults. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani figured he had been to about 10 funerals at one of Rockaway's churches in recent weeks.
Sadly, he will be back for more.
As we have been reminded in recent weeks, each death in a major disaster brings myriad tragedies that can never be quantified: homes and offices that feel a little emptier, dreams lost, future graduations and weddings without special loved ones, and untold thousands of laughs and tears that will never be shared.
Any airline crash brings out the anxieties that many people have about flying. This one carried a particular jolt to a nation on edge about air travel. Giuliani immediately and wisely asked for military air cover over the city and he ordered airports, bridges and tunnels to close. The Empire State Building was evacuated.
The immediate suspicions may prove unfounded, but the response to yesterday's events underscored the extent to which terrorism now pervades our consciousness, especially involving our perspective on air travel. Yet, even our recognition about the threat of terrorism in the skies has not prompted passage of two critically important preventive measures: more careful screening of checked baggage and a federal takeover of airport security operations.
Our economy as well as our peace of mind depend on confidence in air travel.
The government's rigorous probe of the apparent mechanical failure behind Flight 587's crash must be accompanied by a political resolve to override the industry's objections to prudent security precautions.
The refrain out of Washington has been that air travel has never been safer.
It's probably true, but it only counts if Americans believe it.
The crash of American Airlines Flight 587 yesterday into the Rockaway section of Queens strains the hair-trigger nerves of New Yorkers and the nation, magnifying the fear and uncertainty that people have been trying to learn to live with for the past two months.
The excruciatingly familiar smoke, fire, and rubble filling the television screen is even worse for the people of Rockaway and nearby Breezy Point, adding to their nearly unbearable burden of losing some 90 friends and neighbors -- police officers, firefighters, and investment employees - who perished in the collapse of the World Trade Center.
In Public School 114, serving the neighborhood hit yesterday, three children who lost parents working in Manhattan on Sept. 11 now must try to comprehend death dropping from the sky, perhaps hitting their friends off from school for the Monday holiday.
Was this another terrorist act? The public's radically transformed post-Sept. 11 sensibilities long to call it a ''normal'' plane crash caused by some devastating but impersonal mechanical failure. But federal investigators can make no quick calls.
For now we hang on to eyewitness accounts from Rockaway residents, who stand tall before the television cameras, determinedly relating what they can remember, unswayed by what an interviewer has heard.
There's Cynthia, telling CNN how she was in the kitchen baking biscuits when she heard something that sounded like a sonic boom. There's Phyllis, who looked out the window and ''saw a piece of metal falling from the sky.'' There's Ethan, who described how he saw the engine fall off and how the plane ''tilted to the left slightly'' and ''made a nosedive straight down.''
Alan, Kevin, John, Beverly -- they speak to us in interviews as reporters go back to the eyes, ears, and heart of this latest ground zero. After a day they seem like old friends. We look forward to seeing them again in a neighborhood rebuilt, and in a nation healed.
(Compiled by United Press International.)