Flight 587: FBI Has Not Ruled
Out Bomb - Only 2% Of
All Bags Are Checked
By Mark Riley
Herald Correspondent in New York

Flight 587 from New York to Santa Domingo had just taken off and was arcing into the clear autumn sky when the co-pilot, Sten Molin, felt a violent shaking.
What followed was the final 37 seconds for all 260 people on board, revealed in chilling detail by the cockpit voice-recorder of the airliner that speared into a New York suburb on Monday.
The American Airlines A300 Airbus had been aloft for just 1 minute 47 seconds when the flight recorder captured what had startled First Officer Molin - described by investigators as an "airframe rattling noise".
Seven seconds later, the jet pitched in the sky as if tossed by a tidal wave of turbulence.
The black box records Mr Molin as saying he fears the plane has crossed into the jet stream of a Japanese Air 747, which took off 2 minutes 7 seconds earlier.
The normal separation time between flights from John F. Kennedy, one of the world's busiest airports, is two minutes.
Another seven seconds later, just 2 minutes 1 second into the flight, a second, more violent rattle can be heard on the cockpit recorder.
Mr Molin's voice increases in volume and anxiety. He calls for the captain, Edward States, to apply "maximum power" in the hope that he can fly out of what he thinks is extreme turbulence.
It is suspected that it was at this point that the rear tail fin, or stabiliser, came off as the plane flew over Jamaica Bay towards the Rockaway peninsula.
The tail fin and rudder would be found in the bay later on Monday, about 750 metres from where the plane crashed.
At 2 minutes 7 seconds on the cockpit recorder, the two pilots are heard saying that they have lost control of the plane.
Witnesses say that at this point the Airbus lurched violently to the right and left, as if the pilots were battling desperately to keep it flying straight.
The black box does not record what was happening among the terrified passengers as the plane pitched hopelessly on its way to now certain disaster.
Soon after the pilots lost control, both engines broke away from the wings and plunged to the ground.
One landed in a boat parked in the backyard of Kevin McKeon's house. The other slammed into a service station driveway just metres from where Ed DeVito huddled under his truck - narrowly missing a petrol bowser and even greater devastation.
The pilot of a United Airlines flight heading for John F. Kennedy Airport at the time said he believed he had heard the pilot's last words - "We're having a mechanical ..."
At 2 minutes 24 seconds after take-off, the cockpit recording ends. Flight 587 had spiralled, nose-first into the middle of four houses in Rockaway in Queens, exploding in an orange fireball and killing all on board and at least five on the ground.
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released details of the voice recording to a stunned and silent media conference.
Soon after, they revealed that the plane's other black box, containing the flight data recorder, had been recovered.
The investigators hope that this information will provide answers to what caused the shaking that Mr Molin first reported and the second, more violent, shudder that apparently caused the plane's tail fin to snap off.
The NTSB chairwoman, Ms Marion Blakely, maintained that the evidence pointed to a "catastrophic mechanical failure", but FBI agents said they had not ruled out a bomb or sabotage.
A lead NTSB investigator, Mr George Black, said that he did not know of any precedent for a tail fin snapping off an Airbus during turbulence.
The recorded separation time between the doomed flight and the preceding Japanese Air 747, if accurate, was considered within safety guidelines and not so close as to create the extreme turbulence that would cause a following aircraft to break apart.
Amid the heightened sensitivity after the attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon, the Airbus crash has reignited a furious debate over the level of baggage screening.
Airport authorities have conceded that just 2 per cent of all bags that are checked at the counter are screened for bombs before they go on board a plane.
As Congress continues to debate legislation that would tighten the regulations on baggage screening, the US airline industry remains crippled by an acute loss of consumer confidence and a rush of flight cancellations.
The cancellations are expected to keep coming as the flying public learns more about the horrifying last seconds of Flight 587.

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