Feds Downplay Flight 587
Explosion Reports
With Carl Limbacher and Staff

Just two days after the FBI said it was investigating witness accounts that American Airlines Flight 587 exploded in midair before it broke apart over New York's Jamaica Bay on Monday, NTSB investigators are pushing the theory that air turbulence from another jetliner - and not any explosion - caused the crash that scattered wreckage covering a half-mile-wide area.
"We are consistently looking for any sign of sabotage and not finding any," said NTSB spokeswoman Marion Blakely on Wednesday. "There is no evidence of any bomb, of any sabotage, at this point."
That's not what the investigators were saying just hours after the crash, as reported in an Associated Press alert that flashed into newsrooms across the country.
"The Associated Press [is] saying the Bush administration says the FBI believes there was an explosion aboard the plane, and they are investigating its source," reported CNN's Paula Zahn around midday.
"Senior administration officials tell CNN that the FBI is trying to find out the source of that explosion on the American Airlines flight," echoed the news network's Major Garrett.
As what sounded like an official confirmation that Flight 587 had exploded ricocheted around the world, Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer denied the report, saying no administration official had made that statement - but that the FBI would not dismiss what eyewitnesses had seen.
And what nearly every witness to Flight 587's ascent over Jamaica Bay said they saw was an explosion and/or a fire, something not likely cause by "wind turbulence."
CNN's Zahn reported that morning, "We got five eyewitnesses to describe what they saw as an explosion coming, most of them believed, from the right wing."
On WABC Radio in New York, vivid accounts of a midair explosion poured in from callers who saw Flight 587 from both sides of Jamaica Bay.
"I saw an enormous flash where the wing meets the plane," a woman who was out walking her dog told host John Gambling. "I don't know if it was fire or an explosion. It appeared that debris fell from the left side [of the plane]."
Another eyewitness who called into the radio station said, "The right wing seemed to catch fire and explode. The wing was on fire with a trail of smoke behind it."
"I saw the plane going across Jamaica Bay," a third witness told WABC. "It was trying to ascend and then it just exploded."
By Tuesday, some already suspected a cover-up.
"I keep hearing the authorities talk about an engine falling off the plane and [then] an explosion," eyewitness Rod McHale told the New York Post. "That's not what I heard and saw. There was an explosion and then the engine fell off. ... I'm convinced it's terrorism."
Before the NTSB mounted its full court press on the air turbulence theory, ABC News aviation expert John Nance told WABC Radio's Gambling that probers were grasping at straws.
GAMBLING: The theory that this plane, Flight 587, was going through the wash of a 747 ahead of it - that really seems to be sort of a bogus theory.
NANCE: It really is. I think a lot of folks jumped on that last night, I think, misunderstanding the reality that these aircraft fly through severe turbulence. It could be the initiating event of something that was about to happen, but it would not be the cause itself.
Stay tuned.
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