265 people died when an Airbus operated by American Airlines crashed into the New York suburb of Queens in November 2001. The twin-engined jet took off from John F Kennedy Airport in fine conditions but hit trouble after just 67 seconds. In the following 38 seconds the plane started to disintegrate before nose-diving into the residential Rockaway area of the city. Everyone aboard was killed (along with five people on the ground) so the crash investigators had to rely on eyewitnesses, recovered parts of the plane and information from both air traffic control and the flight data recorders. The discovery of the Airbus' vertical tailfin hundreds of metres from the fuselage immediately focussed attention on whether the pilots lost the ability to control the plane. Why the tailfin detached was at the heart of the investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. The airline and the manufacturer blame each other for creating a situation in which the stress on the rudder and tailfin exceeded the so-called ultimate load, the worst-case scenario set by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). A number of American Airlines pilots have taken matters into their own hands though: requesting transfers to other aircraft because of their safety concerns.
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